Technology is here to stay. Our toddlers swipe as easily as they turn a page in a book. They can find their favorite videos on any screen device and FaceTime with grandparents pretty much on demand. Yes, the American Academy of Pediatrics did once recommend no screen time for children under 2 years old in their position statement on Media and Children. Really? Not only is that not realistic, it’s a bit tyrannical.
New commentators are now saying how children use devices is as important as how much they use devices. In the article, Helping Young Children Develop a Healthy Media Diet, The Fred Rogers Center reminds us that the best “media diet” considers background and foreground media – content and context. The American Academy of Pediatrics, similarly recommends “a media diet” in Managing Media: We Need a Plan Media. Technology is not a toxic substance but there is “junk media” that’s much like “junk food” – a steady diet of it will be bad for you (from the Fred Rogers Center article, When Does Technology Become Too Much in a Child’s Life?). And, just like healthy food habits, when and where you use devices influences overall health and well being.
The value of media use increases with an awareness of age-appropriate content and a relationship-based media culture. Some things to consider about media context and your personal media use are:
- Be honest when you give kids devices to bribe, appease or keep them quiet. Say it aloud: you can have the iPad while I ______ (insert parent-needs: finish this email, prepare dinner, take a shower). Better that children know they are helping you than to think they are getting something you don’t really want them to have out of guilt and desperation.
- Watch out for over-reliance on devices as a substitute for personal attention and social-emotional skill-building. Devices can’t teach postponed gratification and self-management in emotionally demanding situations. Kids need practice experiencing and problem solving big emotions (anger, fear, frustration, etc.), not more ways to avoid conflict and discomfort.
- Consider how you use your devices: Is it always in reach? Is it interrupting you when you are with your children? Can you fill waiting time and annoying time without it – waiting in lines and restaurants or driving in the car? Devices are added conveniences but are no substitute for children being resilient and resourceful without them.
Devices are neither good nor bad. Our responsibility is to stay true to the best early childhood educational values and principles. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child continually reminds us that “brains are built, not born”. They are built through caring, nurturing relationships (because all knowledge and skill starts in the emotional brain) and they are built through meaningful interactions – curiosity and questions, problem solving, mistake making and discovery. Learning is active, involved and messy. Context matters. Time spent in engaged attention matters. Excitement and enthusiasm matters.
We all know how it feels to spend too much time on Facebook or to be distracted from a friend’s personal story because our mobile just pinged us. Choosing for our children starts with choosing for ourselves. Does our attention and focus really reflect our truest priorities? In the article, What Parents and Care Providers Need to Know When Choosing Tech For Young Children, it suggests:
Parents can ask themselves questions like: What is my child seeing or playing with here? How does using this media fit into our daily routine? Who is with or around my child-parents, siblings, friends-while using media?
Here are a few excellent tips from The Fred Rogers Center article, Technology and Family Life:
- Make your infant’s and young child’s room screen-free.
- Don’t let the magic of the screen replace the magic of real-life play.
- Create rituals for you and your child that acknowledge when you’re paying attention to screens and when you will turn them off. She recommends creating specific times for you to get your work done, but also creating designated periods of time (after picking children up from school or child care, for example) when you will stay offline and be with them.
- Be picky about the types of media your child interacts with.
Technology is not bad. We are learning how to be connected to devices without losing our connections to one another and to that stillpoint within – maybe. Unplugging is one option but maybe it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Maybe it’s like the best diet ever – you can eat whatever you like, just not all at once and all the time.