Someone didn’t believe me this AM when I said my children (5 & 7) have never turned on the TV themselves. It’s true
— WendySueSwanson MD (@SeattleMamaDoc) December 5, 2013
I got in a heated discussion with a researcher last week. We were chatting about strategies to improve challenges with overweight and obesity. He mentioned it was media controls (automatic locks on devices) that would change children’s habits regrading screen time in the home — he just didn’t want to leave it up to parents anymore. As I understood his perspective, left to chance it’s unlikely parents will avoid screens when it comes at the cost of convenience. I mentioned to him that my young children watched very little television, that in fact, “They’d never turned the television on themselves.” He looked at me sideways, he called my bluff. I told him again they literally had zero access to TV or other screens on their own.
He didn’t believe me.
Why No TV Before Bed Is Better
I’ve carried this conversation with the researcher with me since. Not only because of how it rubbed me the wrong way but how his presumptions are based in new realities. It was easier, even just 7 years ago, to rear our children screen-free. I mean, the iPhone didn’t exist when my 7 year-old was born. It’s far more difficult to moderate screen use now that the majority of parents have smart phones in their pockets, laptops in the kitchen, and tablets near the couch. Three quarters of young children now live in homes with mobile devices (like my children). Those of us who avoid or limit screens have created huge work-arounds in our world.
Earlier this year Common Sense Media published their Zero To Eight report detailing young children’s media use. The report is worth a glance as the stats are fairly mind-blowing. A snaphot shows us:
- 3/4 of young children live in homes with mobile devices, some 38% of infants and toddlers have now used a mobile device.
- 1/3 of children have a television in their bedroom (16% of infants have one) and the likelihood that one ends up there increases with age. For children between 5 and 8 years of age, nearly 1/2 (45%) have a TV where they sleep. Most noteworthy for me: the main reason parents report that a child has a TV in the bedroom is to, “Free up other TVs so family members can watch their own shows.”
- Over 1/3 of families say the television is on “most or all of the time” in their home.
- 63% of children have played a game on a smartphone or mobile device with 17% of parents reporting their children (0-8 years) use a mobile device every single day.
The stats go on and on and it can all feel a little reckless. I’m keenly aware that stats don’t really change behavior and I also really believe that if moderation is king guilt-free is queen. This post isn’t designed to inspire guilt. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that there is no developmental benefit to screen time prior to age 2 . Sometimes learning what TV does to your child’s brain helps. I’m writing this because of 2 recent announcements:
Not a Screen Free Place Around:
I can no longer think of a sacred place (without screens). In addition to the 2013 “innovation” of iPads being affixed to training potties, I recently learned about the iPad bouncy chair (the “Apptivity Seat) where a baby (a BABY!) can sit and play with their iPad. There’s a rash of iPads affixed to all sorts of things this holiday season. Just last week Applebees restaurants announced they will be deploying 100,000 screens to their dinner tables. That’s right, you and I now live in a country where your baby can plug into a device before they can talk and hold their head up and you’re about to be saved from ever having to ask a server for onion rings, let alone talk with your family or friends.
Snarkiness aside, I think we need to reflect loudly about how we make choices as parents and consumers. Corporate America and big box retailers may not have your back in this regard. As these baby human beings’ brains are rapidly making connections (young children make 700 synapses [connections between brain cells] per second during birth to 2 years) they are simply learning how to think. Do you really want the iPad doing the instructing?
It’s fairly unsexy to say that babies need human interaction, song, discussion, tactile play, time and space for creative play with blocks, books, toys and games. Yet it’s true that indeed it’s what is better for them. Why is it so hard for us to believe and value that we humans are far better for our children than these technologies?
Left to chance it’s unlikely that parents of babies and young infants will avoid relying on screens as they raise their children, particularly as screens become unimaginably ubiquitous. I’d really love to hear your experiences and opinions on these iPad seats, potties, and screen conveniences. You think I’m off here? Doesn’t it make you mad that someone is trying to get rich as our children get less of us?
- The iPad Bouncy Seat: An Embarrassment To Human Kind
- Tell Fischer-Price No iPad Bouncy Seat For Infants (Campaign for A Commercial Free Childhood)
Melissa Gilbreth says
I agree 100%! I’m shocked regularly by my 3rd graders requests for her own iPhone, iPad, or TV, as some of her friends have one. We allow screen time, shared in the living room, but there are many more rooms with books open in our house than Televisions or computers present.
Though it’s not really a new thing. When I was working in the UK as an SHO in peds I was this weird german doctor who would turn all this moveable tvs from the babies faces while walking through the ward. I mean, the nurses put the babies (babies!) in bouncers, the bouncers in the cods and the tv screen like 15 inches in front of their faces and than they turned on teletubbies. (yeah I know, it was some time ago ;)) – talk about brainwashing. I was the only person who thought that this was not a healthy habit for anybody…
I’m totally addicted to technology. The first thing I do when I have a free min is look for my iphone or ipad. I think I’M too dependent on technology. I am afraid it would be even harder for someone younger who started useing these devices at such a young age. I feel like I can’t focus as well with all these electronic devices. I feel it will really stunt a child’s developing mind by reducing the changes of the child learning to focus and learn.
I have a joke with friends, family, and my kids teachers that we are raising them Amish. The kids don’t control the TV at our house, either. We use the TV on special occasions like a family movie night.
My older one is 7 and there is a huge difference between her and her younger sib who is 2 yrs younger. Between kids we got an iPad and whereas my older child colored during appointments, my younger one could use the iPad. It is so convenient to pack the iPad and ensure the younger kid sits quietly during big sisters piano lesson. What I’ve found is that he is less willing to deal boredom and wants the iPad for any and all waiting situations. I’ve had to roll back the iPad use.
I will say that we are the extreme minority. Many of my daughters peers received Kindle Fire HDs or iPads for Christmas or birthday. Amazon Freetime promises child appropriate content with built in limits so the child can enjoy their device parent-guilt free. My daughter even used this option as an argument for why she should have a kindle fire over using my old Gen 2 kindle. I can limit her games, so why not? We argued that we don’t want her staring at a bright screen and the eInk was healthier for her eyes. It sounded so bogus to her given her peers use many different bright screens and don’t appear to have ill affects to their eye health.
My 5 1/2 yr old has never turned on the tv or ipad herself. She asks us to watch a DVD or play a game/read a story on the ipad.
How do I discourage my 2.5-year-old son’s TV use when his father has the TV on all day long (and falls asleep with the TV on)? I’ve insisted on having the TV off during meal times but lost that battle. When I suggested that we make sure the TV can’t be seen from the dining area, my husband said, “Fine, then I’ll eat in the family room where the TV is.” When my spouse is the one with the bad habit, it’s very difficult for me to limit my son’s TV use. My son is happy watching whatever my husband watches. I am not a TV person so all of this is very disturbing to me….
Ann Bergman says
I couldn’t agree more about the real importance of finding “sacred” (screen-free) spaces for kids of all ages. As a mom and as the publisher of Seattle’s Child, I have seen first hand the impact that overdoing screen time has on kids (and adults!). We all need time to connect, play and be human, in person! If you’re interested to read more on the topic, our A New Arrival editor, Cheryl Murfin recently wrote a great piece on kids and digital addiction: https://www.seattleschild.com/article/kids-technology-digital-addiction
While driving into Kirkland the other day, a mother was pushing a double stroller across the street in the crosswalk, while one child (old enough to be walking–she was too big for the stroller) was held captive by a I-phone playing some game I’m sure….and I thought–that child doesn’t even know there are pretty trees around her, birds singing, wind blowing. As for everything, there is a time and a place; but kids need to play with their minds and bodies, not their I-pads.
Our boys (3, 6.5) have never turned on the tv (or computer or ipad) – and frankly they’re rather bored when they do ask to watch a DVD, a small assortment lined up like a library for them to choose. When they do watch, our family watches (parents or grandparents). Only one TV in the house makes it simpler. Their school (montessori) is a blessing in that they ask that everyone restrict screen time until they’re 12 to 1/2 hour/day. They love books, adventures on the block, legos, and math.
I’m frankly endlessly irritated to watch people in restaurants focused on their devices instead of talking, or working with 20 yr olds who can’t seem to communicate unless through a keyboard. I think we’re entering a new age of social ignorance, connected virtually, but incapable of independent thoughtful action, even as simple as saying “hello”. and here I am typing on a blog! Yikes.
Janine Jijina says
I’m afraid what will get lost is collective history and memory. My grown children and I have so many in-jokes and experiences in common because we spent so much time interacting together. Some of this was movie or t.v. time but because it was spent together we can all reference it–it’s in our collective history and our collective memory.
Time spent alone with a device doesn’t give you a family memory and a reference point for happiness or shared experience. This is what I’m afraid will suffer. Also, I see all kinds of times when a child will not be able to look at a screen and use the potty at the same time. May make using the bathroom in other places a little difficult!
Using any “screen” device for an extended period of time causes brain damage. This has been well documented, from decades-old research studies concerning TV to current studies regarding the internet (read “The Shallows”, for starters). All human beings– not just children– should have minimal screen time, period.
My confusion is why people think this is so difficult. Our household (2 adults, 2 children in elementary school) is smartphone-free, iPad-free, video-game free. Our children never use the internet at home, never watch broadcast TV, have never played a video-game, have never used a smartphone… and they are highly intelligent (one skipped a grade), well-rounded, and socially skilled with many friends.
You can do it, folks! Stop being a zombie! Unplug your brain!
I think it’s just a symptom of the ever-increasing role technology is playing in our lives. At first I was absolutely stunned to read that 38% of infants and toddlers have used a mobile device–that is absolutely stunning to me! I don’t know how in-depth their usage is, but the fact that children as young as 2-3 years old are using technology like adults is very intriguing to me.
Is this good or bad? I don’t know–I don’t think anyone knows, to be honest. It’s just change. My mother’s generation grew up with black and white television and played outside–my childhood was filled with Nintendo and color television and, in my teens, computers. This current generation of children will grow up with the iPhone, iPad, smartphones, etc. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, just different.
I wonder if one’s child would be at a disadvantage 10-20 years from now if he/she DIDN’T have access to such advanced technology as they grew up. It’s an interesting time to be a parent, that’s for sure.