Friday, October 28, 2011

Thinking Outside The Box: Screen Time

Superbaby Book Review, Part 3.
Read Part 1 here or Part 2 here).

Before I discuss Dr. Berman's chapter on television and screen time for kids under the age of three (yes, age 3!), I have a few disclaimers:

1) Michael and I don't own a TV. We haven't owned one since we moved to Pennsylvania in 2007. We sold it and never bought one again. We've had opportunities to get one but have made the intentional decision not to get one again. We do watch TV shows, but all online. One huge advantage to this is that we don't waste time flipping through channels. We sit down to watch the show we want to watch, and then it's over. We love that the TV is not the center of our living room. I share this because I think I already have a slightly different view on television than the average American.

2) This discussion is not meant for anyone to feel guilty for watching TV or even for having your children watch TV. I simply want to present the information and let you make a better, informed and intentional decision regarding screen time. Which leads to my third disclaimer,

3) I only have one child. I have no idea what the stress can be like with two or more, or having the urge to stick my child in front of the TV to get a few moments of rest while I take care of the younger child. (I address this in the very last section of this post). Many people have shared with me that they shared similar goals and thoughts about screen time when they only had one child, but when #2 came along much of that went out the window. So, I want to humbly admit that I have the luxury of only one child at this point and can't comment on the convenience of TV with a second child. Maybe someday I will post an addendum (added 1/31/13) to this one when I can comment on life with more than one child.

Until then, here are some thoughts on screen time and kids under the age of 3:

-The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two watch no television. None. Zero. That includes so-called educational media (more on that in a moment). Interestingly, by age 3 months, 40% of babies regularly view DVDs, TV, or videos, and by age 2 almost 90% of all kids in the US are spending 2-3 hours EVERY DAY in front of the screen. And, children ages 2-3 watch more than 4 1/2 hours a day. My first thought when I hear theses statistics is, what would they be doing if they didn't have all that screen time? Playing, moving, burning calories, and exploring, most likely!

-Regarding "educational" DVDs such as Baby Einstein: in 2007 it was proven that babies 8-16 months old that watched these videos actually knew 6-8 words fewer than other children. It definitely did NOT make them smarter. Babies need stimulation and interaction, not screens with colors and noises.

Dr. Berman's List: 14 Viewing Risks for Children

1. Attention Deficit Disorder-Basically, a study found that for every hour of television this group of children watched, at ages one and three, children had almost a 10% higher chance of developing attention problems. Being exposed to quick changing images most likely overstimulates the brain, causing permanent changes in developing neural pathways. This is a big deal in the developing brain of a toddler!

2. Autism-Autism is mostly thought to be biological, but, though controversial, there is a significant correlation between rising autism rates and more frequent television viewing.

3. Asthma-Children who watch more than two hours per day of TV are twice as likely to develop asthma as those who watch less. This has to do with breathing patterns that develop while watching screens and remaining sedentary. Get those kids outside to play!

4. High blood pressure-The more TV kids watch, the higher their blood pressure, regardless of whether or not the child was of a healthy weight. Again, it has to to with being sedentary.

5. Poor sleep-Amount of TV is related to irregular nap and bedtime schedules. The sleep problems associated with TV viewing in childhood often persist into adulthood.

6. Poor eyesight-Many eye specialists believe TV and video games are responsible for damaging children's visual development and are a major cause of impairing children's reading and learning abilities. Computer usage should be limited, especially for children under the age of 6. Yes, 6.

7. Academic problems-Too many studies to count that relate television watching, or even the television being turned on all the time at home, with lower grades and less read books. Turn off your TV or computer and read or play with your kids!

8. Depression-Depression rates have been found to increase by 8% with every additional hour of TV viewed among teenagers. One reason for this? Self-esteem is created when a child experiences mastery or a sense of accomplishment. This could be completing a puzzle, throwing a ball, even physical development. There is no "aha" moment when watching television.

9. Displaced activities-What your child isn't doing because he/she is behind a screen: spending time with parents and siblings, creative play, homework (for older kids)...the list goes on.

10. Drop in creativity-A study was done in a town who never had access to TV and then finally was wired with cable. Basically, kids who watch a lot of TV can only mimic or reenact cartoon stories on television, and bring no unique experience to their play. Instead of creating their own stories, they simply copy the plot lines they've seen on TV.

11. Aggression and violence-When TV was brought to the town mentioned in #10, the single greatest effect was increased aggression among children. Kids who watch cartoons with any form of violence are much more aggressive with other kids than non-violent cartoons.

12. Fear-90% of college students report experiencing a fear reaction from media during childhood.

Interesting fact: EVERY SINGLE G-rated movie released between 1939 and 1999 has at least one significant act of violence. Furthermore, the screen time devoted to violence rose from an average of three minutes per movie in 1940 (which still seems like a lot to me) to ten minutes per movie in 2000.

13. Addictive quality of viewing-Television is highly addictive. It has to do with brain stimulus. Develop good habits while they're young.

14. Harming family dynamics-Children learn how to socialize by watching our example. Think about the relationship dynamics on TV. What do you want your child to mimic? Also, media and technology has replaced family interaction, and connections as a family suffer. Families text each other from the other room while they are playing video games and eating dinner alone. These habits start when your baby is young!

Constant Exposure
-It's estimated that 51% of homes in the US have the TV on most or all of the time.

-5 Reasons why TV background noise is bad for your child:

1. Inner speech-The constant noise and distraction can prevent a child from developing this, which helps with problem solving. Inner speech is developed during creative play, helps a child to remember specific things ("I am supposed to wash my hands before I eat"), plan ahead, and work out steps to solving problems. Having the TV on prevents children from experiencing the quiet needed to develop this skill.

2. Decrease in quality and quantity of play-Studies of children ages 1,2, and 3 playing with TV on versus playing with TV off found there was an obvious decrease in play episodes, even for one-year olds, whenever the TV was turned on in the background.

3. Reduced interactivity with parents-One study showed that when the TV wasn't on parents were actively engaged with their kids 66% of the time, but when it was off the number went down to 54%. Also, active play was 74% when the TV was off, and only 59% when it was on. One mom even jumped from engaging 78% of the time down to 19% with the TV on.

4. Reduced language learning-Infants have to learn to differentiate between sounds, so having the TV on in the background makes language development more difficult. Period. TV greatly reduced the number of words spoken by parents to children. This is obvious. If your TV is off you are much more likely to talk to and interact with your child, but if the TV is on you simply will talk to your child less, giving them less opportunity to learn vocabulary and language patterns. (Not to mention the message you may be sending to your child that they are less important than whatever you are reading on your phone or computer or watching on TV).

"Television actually reduces the number of language sounds and words babies hear, vocalize and therefore learn." (Dr. Christakis)

5. Access to inappropriate content-When TV is on in the background, children are more likely to see something they are not ready to see. (Just think about the evening news or Victoria Secret commercials.)

Here is a list of other topics Dr. Berman discusses that I won't go into detail here, but think are worth reading:

-4 Ways Television is Making Kids Fat
-How Advertisers Influence Your Child's Thinking
-Recommended programming for kids over the age of 3

Finally, I want to end with a few of the most common reasons parents turn on the TV to keep children occupied during their first three years. If you can relate to any of these, Dr. Berman gives alternate solutions that work for each of the reasons, and they are definitely worth reading.

"I have to turn it on to make dinner."
"I need a few minutes to take a shower."
"She loves looking at the screen."
"I don't know what else to do with my toddler while I nurse my new baby."
"I don't want my child to be a social outcast."
"It's educational."

Many of the reasons parents give can be solved with solitary play. It's important for kids to learn to play for periods of time on their own. I agree with Dr. Berman that it's much easier to teach children solitary play from the beginning. Because I have no option of turning the TV on while I'm making dinner, Ellie has learned to either play alone for chunks of time, or to play and "help" me in the kitchen. She has her drawer of spoons and cups to play with, we talk and interact, and she's not in front of the TV while I'm preparing dinner.

My favorite tip from Dr. Berman? The Center for Screen-Time Awareness advocates two weeks every year where you turn-off your TV for an entire week. See what it does for you and your family!

Remember, this discussion is only to get people to think more about screen time, not to make you feel guilty for using TV with your kids. I humbly admit our TV viewing might look different if we owned a TV. Also, we are in front of our computers or Smart phones constantly, so this is something Michael and I are continuing to work on. We don't claim to have the answers or to even do all of this well.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on your own family's screen time experiences.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I enjoyed your posts. I had a mom this week who couldn't believe my 3yo & 1yo hadn't seen Tangled. Yes, no TV can work with multiple children :)