A well balanced (media) diet

“How much screen time should we let him have?” asked a mom at a recent two year well visit.   “That IS the question of the decade” I replied, “and honestly at this point I don’t know what the best answer is.”
Screen time.  Our parents never asked our doctors about screen time.  Our teachers never took into account the time on the family computer when assigning homework or weighed Chromebook use versus hardcover books.  We are facing a whole new dilemma as parents and educators.
There’s a lot of research being done and to be done to figure out how to best equip parents to handle their young children’s screen time.  It’s clearly not as simple as “keep it to a minimum, at most 2 hours per day” as we had previously advised.  What about educational shows?  What about homework? How about educational games?  What if we are watching something together?  There are many nuances that make a blanket number of hours too simple of an answer.
I advise parents to think of screen time like they do a balanced diet.  All chocolate cake….no good.  All kale….not advisable either.  Somewhere in between is just right and it varies by child and family.   Here’s my take on the different “food groups” of screen time….
  • Mindless show watching – this is the fats and sweets of the food groups.  Use sparingly.  This is sitting your child down in front of Nick Jr or Disney Jr while you make dinner  when you just need a few minutes to accomplish something (even if it’s your own screen time sweet checking Facebook).
  • Watching shows with your child – the carbs of the food pyramid.  Part of a well balanced diet but don’t go crazy on the pasta and pastries.  Sitting down and watching something with your child is a chance to connect over a shared experience.  Peppering questions “What would you do if that happened to you?” Or “What do you think happens next?” are ways to carry on a conversation and get the wheels turning while watching something fun together.
  • Games without much learning or challenge – better than watching a show, even the most mindless temple-run style games at least require mental thought rather than passively absorbing a show.  They help build hand-eye coordination, are fun & challenging, and burn some brain calories.
  • Educational games – even better as they are challenging, fun, and allow for learning in an environment that kids enjoy.  These are as akin to baby carrots as screen time gets….to be given out liberally and praised for consumption.
Unlike a food, you don’t have to feed your kids with screens.  Many parents rightly recognize their child will have a screen in front of their face for most of their life and don’t allow screens in their home.  This is a entirely appropriate reaction to our modern screen obsession and those parents should be commended.  However, I do think that for many families sensible screen time limits and a balanced diet of screen choice is acceptable.   Parents shouldn’t beat themselves up for allowing their child to screens.  Teach them how to have a healthy screen diet and they will be setup for success as they grow and integrate more screens into their everyday life.

What’s your family’s screen plan?  Continue the convo on our Facebook page.

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