Yes, there are benefits to having such quick access to information, but there is also a growing concern about the effects of too much screen time on young minds and bodies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two not be exposed to any screen time. For those two and older, the recommended screen time in front of "quality programming" is two hours or less per day. While two hours may sound like a lot of time, many children across the country are spending upwards of five or more hours in front of the screen of an electronic device most days of the week.
In recent studies, children who are exposed to more than the daily recommended amount of screen time show negative impacts on their mental, physical, and psychosocial development. Infants who are exposed to hours of television and videos show negative effects on their cognitive, language, and emotional development. The exposure can also cause a young child to have irregular sleep schedules.
The negative impact continues as children grow. Infants and toddlers who view more TV and videos are also less active and weigh more during middle childhood.
I understand that it is hard to get things done with young children around who want your attention. The important thing is to try not to have the TV and videos serve as a babysitter. Here are a few suggestions: put your infant in a playpen with some age-safe toys for a few minutes; let your toddler or preschool-aged child color at the table while you cook dinner or clean the kitchen; make reading time a ritual in your house. Try to find creative ways to get a few minutes here and there - it can add up and you'll get done what you need to.
The number of hours in front of the screen is not the only issue. What children are watching and playing may be just as important to their development. The way a child socially interacts can be influenced by the violence and aggression they are exposed to on TV, in video games, and in movies.
Preschool-aged children especially are very impressionable. Most often, they will imitate what they see, whether it's from you or from a TV or video screen. Be aware of what your child is watching and playing. Focus on shows and movies that teach the values of respecting others and yourself. Take the time to speak with your children about what they're watching, ask questions, and explain anything they don't understand.
On Sunday, May 19, I'll be with Lisa Kelly and Maryann Morris at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester from 3 to 4 p.m. for "Reducing Your Child's Screen Time: When Childhood Development Goes Right!" Lisa is the founder of Unplugged, an organization that gets girls unplugged and outside, and Maryanne is the executive director of The Collaborative, an organization which supports keeping youth substance-free. We'll be at the Bookstore to talk more about how you can successfully limit your children's screen time and alternative things you can do together as a family. The event is free. Find out more or register at svhealthcare.org/events.
Dr. Lynn Mann is a pediatrician with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians and cares for patients at SVMC Pediatrics in Bennington and Northshire Medical Center in Manchester. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Mann, call 362-4440.