Put. Down. The. Phone. We’re here to help
Did you know that too much screen time is bad for your kids? Sure. Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age two avoid all screens — as in 100 percent? Did you know that your child’s electronic habits are strongly influenced by yours? Sorry, but that one is true, too.
It seems like everywhere you turn there are articles about the dangers of screens for kids. Until now, few seemed to address the elephant in the room, namely how parents’ screen habits influence and affect their children. Recently, Janet Brody published an article in the NewYork Times called “How to Cut Children’s Screen Time? Say No to Yourself First.” Ouch.
The excellent article reviewed the work of several prominent researchers with uncomfortable results. In one study researchers viewed 55 groups of parents with children at fast food restaurants. Of those, 40 adults took out mobile devices as soon as they sat down to eat with their kids. Many of those spent the meal absorbed in their phones instead of their kids. Parents and caretakers are often on their own devices while their infants and young children are present. Have you ever watched a baby seek out his or her caregiver’s gaze only to be denied by the adult’s absorption in a mobile device?
As the parent of little children and as a doctor, I get the need to have my phone around. I, too, have been guilty of leaving the phone on the table during a meal out and of being distracted by a device instead of my kids. I am also profoundly aware of the message we give our children when our eyes and ears are tuned to a stupid phone instead of them. Now that my kids are school aged, I’m also learning that it’s hard to argue against screen time from the desk at my computer when my kids are home.
But you don’t always have to be glued to your phone. Likewise, you don’t have to be without it, either. Here are some ways to set boundaries for yourself.
- Set screen-free times of the day. The article mentions that transportation to and from school, as well as the first hour after pick up from daycare or preschool should be screen-free for everyone. Likewise, meals should be free from screens — including the TV.
- Bath time and times where your careful supervision is necessary (park, pool, beach, running errands) should be screen-free.
- Sit down and figure out when you need to check your email and social media during the whole day and when you could do without, then try to schedule your own screen time around naptime or after bedtime.
- Set limits for those caring for your children, as well. We have all seen distracted caregivers absentmindedly pushing a child in a swing with one hand, while scrolling with their other. If you want your nanny to be screen free at certain times, let them know.
- Be aware of the message you are sending your kids when your mobile device is commanding your attention. If we want them to grow up interacting with the world in person, we need to model that behavior beginning when they are very young.