Toddlers and TV — How Much Is Too Much?

By Kara Reynolds | Feb 24, 2016

As first time parents, my hubby and I took every childbirth and parenting class offered by our hospital. Excited but overwhelmed, we listened to every word the instructor uttered and diligently took notes. During one parenting class in the hospital auditorium, I remember the question of screen time coming up. Some of us had to put our phones away (oh, the irony) to learn that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no screen time for children under the age of two, and limited screen time after that. Many of the couples exchanged incredulous looks —  absolutely no screen time?! Not wanting to do anything to royally screw up our child or her little brain, my husband and I were trying to figure how, exactly, in today’s world this would work. Would we have to turn our backs to her to check the weather on our phones? What about watching football with our families on Sundays? A fun tradition, sure, but how could she not catch a glimpse of the TV screen while being passed around between loving family members? Both hubby and I also have jobs that include being active on social media and responsive to emails, so how could we detach entirely from our phones and tablets? The guidelines seemed like they were written for a different era. Apparently, we weren’t the only parents wringing their hands over this rule. Late last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its screen time regulations, admitting, “In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete.”Thankfully, the new guidelines take a much fuller, and more realistic, view of parenting in the digital age. Here is a look at the new regulations and some tips for parents and parents-to-be.

Continue to Parent

Perhaps at the heart of the old “no screens before two” rule was the implication that parents were allowing the TV to become a babysitter for their children. Turn on a show and plop Junior down in front of the TV — then walk away. Instead of caving to this stereotype, today’s parents should view screen time as a continuation of their regular parenting style. Sit with your children and point out what you see on the screen, watch their reactions and engage while having screen time. Talk about the colors, people and objects you see. When playing with educational apps, take the time to explain to your child the rules of the game and play with them. In short, be the same parent with the iPad turned on as you are when it’s turned off.

Education Over Entertainment

You might be tempted to let your child watch whatever you are viewing. Hey, they don’t really understand zombies anyway, and you are almost finished binge watching on Netflix! However, experts say that curating the shows or apps your child has access to, selecting education over entertainment, is key to being a good parent in the digital age. Organizations like Commonsense Media have rated apps, TV shows and movies. You can even pick programs by age appropriateness on their site. Still, always preview the show or app yourself first, to ensure it represents your family values and would be appropriate for your little one.

Use Technology to Strengthen Family Bonds

Beyond education apps and TV shows, we have to admit that technology is allowing families to stay connected. Our baby “met” many of our family members for the first time over Skype or FaceTime.I have a friend who bought two copies some of her child’s favorite books — one for her house and one to send to Grandma, who lived across the country. Then when Grandma Skyped with her grandson, she could read the book to him over the screen. It strengthened their connection (no pun intended), and it shows another benefit to being responsible with technology instead of shunning it all together.

Ensure Some Down Time

The revision of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines doesn’t mean all screen time all the time. Some experts recommend breaking longer content into smaller pieces, and resist using TV as a reward so it isn’t viewed as a treat. Be sure the majority of your child’s day is spent interacting with others in person and with playing and creating outside of technology. Blocks, crayons, books and bikes are classics for a reason. Any parent will tell you that mommy (and daddy) guilt is real, but don’t let a little educational screen time feed into your guilt. It turns out technology can be integrated into your parenting style. It’s not the enemy of it. In fact, you may be setting your child up for success and raising an informed digital citizen in the process. So go ahead and check the weather in front of your infant without worrying that you’ve harmed them for life.

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