Rod Lampard, father of five, says in a recent article in the Daily Dad,
“Technology is a tool, not a toy. It’s a horrible baby-sitter. A terrible master. Tech is no substitute for hands-on, old-school dad and mum counsel, comfort and conviction.”
That sums up my feelings exactly. For many years of my younger life, we did not have a TV in the house. Looking back, it was a good thing. It forced me to read, and I was ahead in my reading skills right through my schooling years as a result.
Readers are leaders. Reading is a skill that parents must encourage and hold dear. Too much screen time will rob our children of that skill if we are not careful. Worse still, we could inadvertently condemn our children to backward development in learning.
Evan Dashevsky, a writer for PCMag, in a tongue-in-cheek article titled, “How Bad Is it to Use Tech as a Babysitter?” says this.
“Kids are annoying psychopaths with little regard for your time or patience. And the younger they are, the more trying they can be as their very survival depends on being around you every waking moment. As much as you love the little wholly dependent bags of adorableness, sometimes you Just. Need. A. Break.
I’m sure all new (and not-so-new) parents can relate to the following scenario: Your infant is crying for no reason in particular. Feeding, changing, naptime, attention, singing, pleading—nothing seems to calm them down. Well, not nothing. There is one secret trick that you know will calm their spazzy soul, if just for a little bit: Firing up your laptop and playing some familiar, brightly coloured YouTube clip.
Of course, you would never do that because you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clearly states that children under the age of two should never be placed in front of a screen of any kind. Studies have shown that babies’ development can be harmed by even being in the same room with a TV playing in the background. And media exposure for older kids should be strictly limited…
So, has all our modern technology condemned the next generation to perpetual brain mush?…
One-on-one interaction is extremely crucial in human development, whether it be through explicit learning (learning new words from hearing you speak) or through the implicit learning (the non-verbal lessons including self-regulation, building empathy, and handling frustrations).
“It started, last March, as an act of necessity — sticking the kids on iPads all day so I could make a hard deadline that fell six weeks into lockdown. There was no way around this; at five years old, my kids couldn’t manage their Zoom schedules or self-entertain for long without fighting, and I couldn’t break off every two minutes to help them.
Overnight, kindergarten and after-school disappeared, to be replaced with the sedative of kids YouTube, and when the appeal of that started to wane, the more addictive and ruinous content on TikTok. If it was hideous, I told myself, it was an emergency. It wouldn’t be like this for ever.
A year later and in New York, at least, we’re in a radically different place. Next week my kids’ elementary school goes back full-time and although it lets out early — at 2pm — half of the city is now at least partially vaccinated… Things are, on the surface, starting to look vaguely like normal.
Except, of course, they’re not. Among the many new habits formed during the pandemic, a reliance on screens as babysitters may be one of the toughest to break…
Right now feels like the point of reckoning. Given the amount of work that gradual withdrawal appears to involve, my instinct is to pull the plug and go cold turkey. Last night, coincidentally, we read a book about a family of bears who were addicted to TV, until the mum unplugged it and forced a week of abstinence on them all. So that’s what we’re doing; a week of no screens starting today.
The novelty of the ban is entertaining my kids, in particular the fact of it pertaining to me. ‘You can’t go on your phone today if you want to text one of your friends’” said my daughter at breakfast. ‘You can’t make any calls or pick up any calls.’ She looked thoroughly delighted, a state which surely won’t last. Wish us luck.”
We know it’s easy for parents to plop their kids in front of a tablet or smartphone when things get hectic. The bright screens and animated characters on a game or movie easily distract cranky young people. Just a few minutes so I can get a little break, too many parents argue in their head.
Unfortunately, parents are turning to this virtual babysitter too often, and those few minutes here and there are adding up to way more screen time than is healthy.
An astounding number of children — 87% — watch screens way more than recommended, according to a recent analysis released in November 2019 by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the University at Albany and the New York University Langone Medical Center.
More alarming is that the exposure is beginning in infancy, when the American Academy of Pediatrics said young ones shouldn’t be watching any screens at all. Screen time at such an early age can potentially alter brain development.
The organization of physicians says children should be gradually exposed to small bits of screen time from 18 to 24 months old. In other words, it should be doled out like a treat, such as candy or birthday cake. From age 2 to 5 years old, children should be allowed only an hour a day of any computer, television or smartphone time.
Instead, infants are watching 53 minutes of screen time by age 12 months and more than 150 minutes at age 3. Some of our youngest children sat in front of a screen for as long as four hours. This is a time when children should have free play, build with blocks and scribble in coloring books. Or how about run around outside in the fresh air? Mindlessly watching a series of cartoons, even if they are educational, is not good for a child’s development.
A new study published last month in JAMA Pediatrics studied brain scans of young children and found that kids aged 3 to 5 years old had underdeveloped white matter in their brains if they watched screens for more than an hour a day. The researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital said these early years are vitally important for brain development, and screen time is inhibiting this in many children…
Technology is a part of the world, but it doesn’t have to consume our young children. When children do use tablets and other devices, parents should engage with them. Children learn better when they interact with someone.
Evan from PCMag is right. “Children need human interaction to thrive.” Adults do too, but less so. Let’s not measure ourselves in our children, but give them what they really need. Our children need more of us.
Yours for More Love & Less Screen Time,
Warwick Marsh has been married to Alison Marsh since 1975; they have five children and nine grandchildren, and he and his wife live in Wollongong in NSW, Australia. He is a family and faith advocate, social reformer, musician, TV producer, writer and public speaker.
Warwick is a leader in the Men’s and Family Movement, and he is well-known in Australia for his advocacy for children, marriage, manhood, family, fatherhood and faith. Warwick is passionate to encourage men to be great fathers and to know the greatest Father of all. The Father in Whom “there is no shadow of turning.”
The Fatherhood Foundation Incorporated trading as Dads4Kids is a Harm Prevention Charity listed under Subdivision 30_EA of the Australian Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 with Tax Deductible Status (DGR) for donations
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