With social networking at an all-time high and smart-phones at our fingertips, it’s no surprise that children now know their way around laptops and iPhones just as well as their parents. Many believe that we are right at the peak of the “information age,” and while it certainly has it’s perks, it has its drawbacks as well.
Study after study has concluded that too much TV isn’t good for brain development, especially as it pertains to young children. One such study showing that 14 month-old babies who were allowed to watch one hour of television showed delayed cognitive development and language skills compared to those of babies who didn’t watch any television at all. Sesame Street and Baby Einstein aside, it seemed that the type of shows (learning/developmental) had no bearing on these results. TV is TV is TV.
Some have argued then, that the same could be true of parents’ “toys”- particularly the iPad, iPhone and other kinds of devices. Sure, they’re convenient and yes, they may even have educational apps, but researchers insist the bottom line is that they all still provide unnecessary stimulation.
Are we bad parents because we let our children watch TV? No. Are we apathetic because we let them play with our iPads so that we can get a five minute shower in peace? Absolutely not. While some parents ultimately feel it best to ban TV-watching until the age of two, other parents find themselves solidly in the middle, and in the precarious position of determining just how much is too much, not unlike many other areas of parenting.
The missing key, often, is intentionality- something that seems to be required in much larger doses in our current information age. As parents, it’s all too tempting to let machines and screens do the work for us- an option that wasn’t as prevalent or readily available to our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. It requires us to set aside times when the TV is off, the computer is unplugged, and our phones are charging somewhere out of our reach. There may at first be complaints of boredom. Meltdowns. Tantrums. Twiddling of thumbs. It may not feel natural at first. But children need this break in stimulation. (And so do parents). Take the initiative to pull out some craft materials like play doh, crayons/paints, paper, and encourage your children to funnel their energy into something they can actually create themselves. Get outside and go for a walk. Listen to music every day and better yet- give them the choice of what to listen to. Have a dance party. Set aside 30-45 minutes to play a board game together in the evenings or have some reading time on the couch after dinner (no e-books– the good, old-fashioned paper ones will do just fine). Also, and this may go without saying but it bears repeating: if you want a smoother transition to bedtime, it’s best to switch off the TV and other devices a good hour or more before starting the bedtime routine in order to give them time to decompress and wind down. Less lights equal less stimulation.
However, if you do find yourself downloading Dora apps or popping on a beloved DVD for your little ones in the name of saving your sanity, remember that if nothing else, this makes you normal. But keeping the bigger picture in mind and balancing these times with other kinds of “disconnected” activities will make for happier kids- and parents, too.