Ten years ago, parents could simply put their child in front of a video if they wanted to get some peace in the household. You could ask them to come to dinner or suggest, “Let’s go skiing or sledding!” and chances are they’d leave the TV. Today, the screen goes with them everywhere. Children are linked up to their smartphone or tablet, or some game console activity that captivates them and keeps them in their own “zone.” They ignore you. It’s almost impossible to talk to your children today with social media, and fixation on their screens.
Recently I saw several children at the mall dancing to images on a gaming console screen that was as big as a side of a house! While they were dancing, mesmerized by the sound and the colors of the digital screen, their parents were sitting by, ignoring them because they were fixated on their smart phones. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Some kids are even using their smart phones to play screen games at recess and not interacting with their peers. But some parents walk their kids in strollers, looking down at their phone. What is happening to the parent-child relationship? According to researchers, this is “the erosion of creative play and interaction with caring adults.” Studies are finally focusing on the addictive potential of computers and video games for young children and for teens.
Some of the tablet and iPad apps are great for kids to improve language skills, but other apps are not educational, although they claim to be helpful. Instead, they keep a child addicted to the screen and cause parents to struggle. It’s also a problem because of what kids are missing—the social interaction and live communication that are essential for their development and for future relationships.
I admit that an Xbox is fun to use! I tried skiing downhill on an Xbox yesterday with an eight-year-old. It was a real blast. Before I knew it, I was engaged with the screen and not talking to my speech patient! I was laughing at myself. Now I’m writing this blog on how to help kids avoid screen time. It’s a REAL challenge. I know.
Here are some simple tips to help make better connections with your plugged-in children:
Younger children: Toddlers and Preschoolers
Elementary School Children
High School Students
The American Academy of Pediatrics stated, “It could be argued that active play is so central to child development that it should be included in the very definition of childhood.” Children need to experience learning during interactions, with creative, hand-on projects, in the outdoors, and with relationships with their teachers, caregivers and families during play. Play and relating to others is the essence of childhood.
There are many resources to read about the use of technology and children. Many more studies will be in the news soon. I don’t have all the answers here, but my intuition is that we need technology, but we have to limit the amount of screen time and the quality of the games and apps that our children see everyday, even if it’s at the mall or on our own smart phones.
Here are a few resources for review (I don’t agree with all of what the authors say and they won’t agree with all of what I suggest):
Commonsense Media is one organization that is very helpful for parents: It provides reviews of movies, shows, games, and apps as well as recommendations.
Alliance for Childhood has done some wonderful readable reports on the impact of media.
Another good resource is Diane Levin's book Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age.
Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young Children, Technology, and Early Education. This is an article from The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood and the Alliance for Childhood, 2012. http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/screendilemma