Using the TV, a tablet, a smart phone or video game as a babysitter may not be something to brag about, but we all know that it's an easy way to buy some necessary downtime. According to Common Sense Media's 2013 study, Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America, kids 8 and under spend about two hours a day interacting with screen media; 72% of kids 8 and under have used a mobile device for some sort of media activity—and 38% of kids under 2 have used a mobile device for media. That's a lot.
Obviously, a little screen time won't harm your child. But remember that every minute spent sitting in front of a screen is a minute when your babies aren't exploring the world with all their senses.
Next time you're tempted to reach for that remote, pop in a DVD, or fire up an app, take a moment to think about a balanced media plan for your child, and create a daily schedule to make sure you're not over-relying on media.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, excessive media use can contribute to health risks, including obesity, lack of sleep, aggression, and school problems. Plus, it's interacting with you that helps build baby's brains. That's why the AAP discourages screens for kids under 2 and recommends limiting it to 1 or 2 hours per day for older kids.
But it's not just quantity that matters—quality does, too. Programs with learning potential and pro-social messages have value for all kids. And there are plenty of programs that encourage brain-stimulating interaction rather than mere passive consumption.
Tips for Parents of Young Kids
If you're going to let babies interact with a screen, know what they're watching and playing. Be smart about the programs you pick. Choose games or programs that are age appropriate, with non-jarring sounds and bright, stimulating colors.
Don't turn TV into preschool. Baby TV hasn't proven to be of any benefit for school readiness. The best preparation for your children involves spending time with them, reading, talking, and exposing them to the world.
Have-it-your-way TV. Take advantage of your DVR, On-Demand service, and streaming TV on the Internet to take control over what your kids watch, when they watch, and how much they watch. Customize the experience by skipping commercials and muting parts you don't want your kids to hear.
As kids get older, keep media out of their bedroom. When TVs or computers are in their room, kids spend more time using media, and parents are less involved with their choices.
Teach your children to ask you whether it's OK to turn on media. This simple control mechanism helps keep gaming, TV watching, and online activity from becoming habits.
Watch the clock. Media use increases as children get older. Less screen time improves your children's ability to entertain themselves in other ways. Set time rules, and stick to them.
Co-view and co-play. Take an active role in your kids' media and take the time to share your values with them.