Limited Screen Time Parenting. Unplug To Tune In.
A recent report from the Canadian Pediatric Society, sponsored by TELUS Wise, advises parents not to give children under the age of two any screen time, and to limit the screen time of children aged two to five years to less than one hour per day. Their research found that heavy screen time can be detrimental to children's language use and acquisition, attention, cognitive development, and executive functions.
"Parenting is all about caregivers setting guidelines, limits and expectations with their kids. Too much screen time takes away from quality family time and face-to-face interaction," Nimtaz Kanji, Director of TELUS Wise, an industry-leading educational program on Internet and smartphone safety, told HuffPost Canada.
Before I go any further, let me please say that if you are a mother with a lot on your plate and the only way you can get anything done is by giving your little one a tablet, then you are doing your best and that should be good enough. No words you read here are meant to make you feel less than or guilty. I do hope that by reading this, you can better understand the guidelines from the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics in regards to screen time and small children. It’s also my hope that once you learn these guidelines, you can find creative ways to keep your children actively entertained.
Before catching our four hours flight from Miami to Denver, my cousin suggested we give our toddler Jasper the iPad and a kid’s benadryl so he could do well on the flight. I don’t believe her suggestion to be the best course of action so I packed lots of fruits and my husband brought books, toys, and the ipad. Before taking off we allowed him to watch thirty minutes of paw patrol. By the time the plane was higher up we took the tablet away by deviating his attention to his toys and books.
That’s when my husband started reading him a story. I saw sparkles as their bond got stronger from sharing this moment. Both were fully engaged, just enjoying each other’s company. This moment inspired me to write this blog in order to bring some understanding of what it means to be present with our little ones by limiting the use of electronics such as televisions and iPads, even when it seems convenient.
While on the plane, Jasper ate a lot of snacks and took a nap. We read about 5 different books to him, a couple of times each. He behaved well and spent some time observing the people around us. He knew he could count on us to give him attention. When my hubby was reading him a story I saw magic in the air. I can’t say the same when Jasper was watching Paw Patrol when taking off.
Small kids crave attention. They learn, grow and evolve through connection with their caretakers and those around them. When a parent reads them a book, learning comes from the book itself but also from the parent’s presence. The way in which the parent tells a story, their interaction while reading the story, and the energy that is being exchanged is what makes the moment what is. In the best case scenario, a kid gets what he or she needs, love and attention, and the parent gets to connect and build a relationship with their little one.
I’m happy we found a way to actively entertain him that relies on human connection, not passive digital entertainment. It takes much more “work” to be there, fully engaged in the moment with him. It’s much “easier” to passively entertain him by giving him the iPad but this is exactly what I’m afraid of. It’s my desire that Jasper chooses to participate in whatever reality he finds himself in, even if he’s bored, angry, or upset. If he’s passively engaged he’ll escape but if he’s actively engaged, he will problem solve.
Passive entertainment means you put yourself on autopilot. You are a spectator in the situation. Getting passively entertained isn’t necessarily something negative, but as a culture we overdo it. Whether engaging in digital media, following sports, or enjoying Netflix, we are paying a steep price for indulging.
In addition, passive entertainment doesn’t take into account the body. Our body stays inactive as we watch anything and oftentimes in a bad posture. Coming from a background of mind/body connection, passive entertainment can be detrimental to one’s physical health, unless done sporadically as a means of relaxation. I see so many children in airports and restaurants staring at a screen with their back and neck curved. Not only are they building a non-constructive habit, they are also growing into deformed positions.
I read in an article the other day that children’s screen time increases tremendously after the age of two. Perhaps because the “terrible twos” are full of ups and downs and it demands lots of parents' attention? But parents are overworked and tired and screen time is the only way out? More than an individual issue, the excessive amounts of the screen time is a collective issue. Navigating your way out of this collective habit takes discipline and awareness of the risks our children face.
What’s important to keep in mind as we make day to day decisions is that when we are passively taking things in, our brains aren't fully engaged. Our bodies aren’t fully engaged either. It can make us unhealthy, unmotivated and less intelligent than we can be. It’s the same for adults and kids. Several studies in psychology show how cognitive decline accelerates when binge-watching TV. The brain is a muscle, use it or lose it. The less mind-body active we are, the more tired, bored, and unhealthy we feel.
That’s where I believe spirituality plays a role. First, we parents need a wake up call. Hopefully the wake up call is something like this article and not a disease or accident. The wake up call is followed by a desire to make life better, leading to believing it can be done. What comes next is actively working towards making it happen — time and time again — regardless of how many times we fall back to old non constructive habits. Trying your best over and over again and not giving up. Not feeling guilty for what has passed. Just believing you can make the difference, right now at this moment.
Going back to my family dynamics, I am a firm believer that by giving Jasper the iPad every time he’s acting out (or not), he's learning a habit of taking the easy way out or getting passively entertained when he’s bored. Worst yet, though a reflection of the same thing, that we parents are getting used to escaping reality too. In a lot of my writings I talk about present moment awareness and how important it is to surrender to what is, with parenthood it isn’t any different.
Most of our anxieties, worries, and disconnection come from resisting what is, not from diving into what is completely. Having real time for ourselves is important but we are often not doing ourselves a service by checking out of the moment to check into our phones every five minutes. Neither are we helping our little ones by getting them entertained with the ipad every time we catch ourselves in public spaces such as planes or restaurants. Kids can adapt to public spaces without causing trouble if only given a chance. It’s also important for parents to understand that kids won’t always be perfect and sometimes uncomfortable moments will happen in public and that’s okay.
A little distraction can ease the tedium of car trips, air travel and other potentially hairy situations. But continually giving a child an electronic device to alleviate restlessness or boredom can be a slippery slope, experts say.
According to one recent study of 47 children ages 3 to 5, those with higher exposure to screens had poorer expressive language and did worse on tests of language processing speed. About 41 percent of the children had a screen in the bedroom and about 60 percent had their own portable devices.
The children with higher exposure to screens were the ones whose parents were not enforcing the current American Academy of Pediatrics’ screen time guidelines, which allow for up to an hour of high-quality programming a day on average.
I’m not against Netflix, tablets or any other form of passive entertainment. I’m a mother and sometimes I need some help too. When Jasper got sick with a high fever for a couple of days, Paw Patrol was super helpful in keeping him entertained so his body could relax and heal. When I’m tired after an active day and I want to have a moment with my hubby, watching a movie is a wonderful thing. Browsing through instagram to see what my friends are up to a couple times a day is worth my time. The issue is indulging.
When you take everything into account, it’s difficult to lay too much blame on folks today. Most of us grew up in a world where entertainment and sensation came prepackaged and easily deliverable, and that’s hard to get around. After all, humans love the easy route. Heck, animals in general prefer the easy route, because easy routes are few and far between in the wild. So when you see one, you take it! Ten thousand years ago, the only way to feel anything was to go out and actually experience it. Today, it’s easier to watch other people’s experiences on a screen, and it’s sometimes more effective, especially when they’re enhanced by sex, violence, explosions, special effects, audio, and teams of writers/actors/directors working to make the experience that much more intense. And remember – feeling those powerful sensations is not optional. We crave and need them to function well, so the path of least resistance and most abundance will also be the path most traveled. I think we’re just too far removed from real experience, from having to engage with the world. To counteract that, we have to consciously decide to turn away from the easy route, to go out and do things differently, and that’s hard to do for an animal wired to take the path of least resistance
And to do things differently for me it means to seek out the best types of active entertainment.
Active entertainment is when we are reacting and responding to all sorts of different situations in the environment around us. These kinds of activities require us to be more than just an audience. When actively entertained, we are fully involved and immersed in the activity. We are stimulated to react to each situation, and change the outcome of these situations.
However, within the category of active entertainment, some are mind-body related activities and some are not. Playing a musical instrument, a sport, or even cooking takes mind & body to perform the activity. Playing video games with online friends across the world is active but not physically active (except for the fingers). In addition, active entertainment such as playing video games online gets one stuck indoors without receiving the benefits of being outdoors.
Until Jasper is mature enough to decide for himself, it’s my responsibility to help him create good habits. We only have a few years until he starts making decisions on his own and it’s my wish to serve him in the best way possible. It takes awareness and self discipline but it can be done. The only way he will eat healthy is if we do, the only way he’ll understand the value of quality active entertainment is if we parents engage in it ourselves.
I also believe that through high quality active entertainment, Jasper will find his passions. Perhaps it’s writing, building things, sports, music or cooking. Who knows? I have no idea but I’m excited to see it all unfold. By engaging in the real world physically and mentally, he will find ways to live fully. I can already tell that he enjoys helping us recycle as well as he loves music and singing.
Good For Mama and my postpartum courses were created mainly for expanding awareness and understanding that everything starts with us, the mothers (and fathers). Our kids mirror and imitate us until they are either prepared and equipped to consciously move forward on their own. If we aren’t careful, there is a possibility that our children will fall asleep in the digital made up world, made by the ultra rich to get ever more rich. How it’ll all end for the next generations is hard to truly see. All I know is that I’m free to make great choices time and time again.
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