If you’re a new parent you’ve likely heard the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) recommendation that children under two years old should not watch any television, and those older should watch no more than one to two hours of quality (read: educational) shows per day.
Before we demonize technology entirely, it would be good to understand why this recommendation is so important. Between television, texting, and computer/tablet screens at school technology isn’t something we can get away from, nor would we want to. But if technology is everywhere, what’s the real harm?
Can you imagine interacting with a friend, a family member, or even a coworker and not realizing they’re angry with you? Or not being able to sense their sadness so you can offer a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on? These interactions are the basis of human relations and, based on research done at the University of California, Los Angeles, your children could be missing out on them if they’re spending too much time in front of screens.
The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that sixth-graders who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to phones, televisions and computers.
Babies learn about human interaction through face-to-face time with their caregivers, and by speaking to their caregivers and having what they say modeled back to them. This is an important part of their social and neurological development. If more screen time means less face-to-face time, their needs for learning and language acquisition aren’t being met.
For babies and preschool children, time with screens is negatively correlated with time spent interacting with parents–which is essential for learning. Even when parents co-view, they spend less time talking to their children than when they’re engaged in activities such as reading or hands-on play with children. Toddler screen time is associated with problems in later childhood, including lower math and school achievement, reduced physical activity, and victimization by classmates.
Decades ago, research at Harvard linked TV watching to obesity. Since then there’s been extensive research across the globe supporting this link.
Researchers have hypothesized that TV watching could promote obesity in several ways: displacing time for physical activity; promoting poor diets; giving more opportunities for unhealthy snacking (during TV viewing); and even by interfering with sleep.
Many studies show that TV viewing is associated with greater calorie intake or poorer diet quality, and there’s increasing evidence that food and beverage marketing on television may be responsible for the TV–obesity link.
After charting the health of thousands of 1990’s-born individuals, scientists believe they’ve found a link between a sedentary, TV-watching lifestyle and asthma.
The risk is greatest between the ages of three and eight years old, the study, published in the journal Thorax, suggests.
Dr Elaine Vickers, of the charity Asthma UK said: “The findings add to a wealth of evidence linking a lack of exercise and being overweight with an increased risk of asthma, but this study is the first to directly link sedentary behaviour at a very young age to a higher risk of asthma later in childhood.”
What’s the takeaway here? It’s not the technology itself that’s proving harmful to your child. It’s that technology is replacing some very important, and necessary, aspects of childhood – physical activity, personal interaction, exposure to nature, and mindful, nutritious meals. But what’s a parent to do in a world of constant connection via smartphones, tablets, and laptops both at home and at school?
- Keep TVs out of kids’ bedrooms. This naturally tends to minimize the number of hours spent watching television. Putting TVs in communal spaces will give parents more control of time spent watching, as well as the content of programming.
- Parents should also consider having a “No-TV” policy during mealtimes. Not only will this discourage distracted overeating, it will also allow for more meaningful interaction between family members.
- It is also a good idea for parents to be an example to their kids, limiting adult TV watching time. Try modeling other healthy leisure activities, such as reading and engaging in sports [or other outdoor activities].
- Last, parents should consider treating television and computer time as a privilege rather than as an automatic right.