Tracy has been working in the field of education for many years specializing in both Waldorf and Montessori methodologies.
Raising Children With Screen Time
For about 10 years I have been raising my kids with a minimum of screen time, and while this has become very normal to me and my family, I realize that I am going against the norm. It has become commonplace in our society for parents to permit their children, on average, 7 hours per day of screen time which includes television, iPads, iPods, smart phones, video games etc., but at what price?
Listen to the Experts
Child development experts know that screen time has a negative effect on children. Concurrently, many parents have become addicted to these same technological devices without really giving the collateral effect and example they are setting much consideration.
Knowingly or unwittingly, they have allowed their children to do pretty much the same. This is a huge mistake. Screen time is detrimental to the natural development of children even if the programing is considered “educational.”
Technology Clashes With a Child's Needs
Our present day society is so enraptured with technology that most aren't looking after the needs of the children in this respect. We, as a culture, are infatuated with technology. We carry around our smart phones like they are infants themselves, tending to them, relating with them, talking to them, touching them and never putting them down; we even sleep beside them at night.
But this techno love affair has left our children in a state of neglect. This is because we don’t realize that this same technology doesn’t benefit children, especially not young children. Even those parents who realize the negative effects of screen time find ways to justify its use. A child’s developing brain, though, is not benefited by any amount of screen time. The needs of the developing child include movement, playtime and interaction with people. Any time away from supporting the developing mind and body of a child is inherently detrimental.
Many people are afraid of what life would be like if their children weren’t entertained and occupied by these mesmerizing objects and their screens.
Why Children Shouldn't Spend Time in Front of Screens: A Breakdown
Educational method founder, Dr. Maria Montessori, stated “mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it.” Even if the child is viewing ‘educational television’ this doesn’t override the value of a child otherwise being active, interacting, and playing. Even when a child is sitting in school or at a church service, they are not sitting quite as still as they are when they are in front of a screen. This is because ‘screen time’ creates a trance like state, the body is somehow frozen. This trance-like state is what is so worrisome because the body is being prevented from the crucial development of motor skills and movement the way it otherwise would.
When children are watching hours upon hours of television, this lack of movement is compounded and leads to developmental deficiencies when compared to a child who was not exposed to screens.
Our eyes are meant to focus both near and far, this varying focus keeps the eye muscles healthy, but when a child is focusing on a screen at constant distance, this can cause harm. Focusing only on a screen also prevents the eyes using peripheral and tracking vision, leading to even further damage.
3. Time Sequencing
As a child is growing and developing he is gaining an understanding of time, how a day begins and ends, there is a rhythm to day to day life and a sequence when one thing comes after another. Television doesn’t work in real time, programs are cut into segments, and storylines don’t go in chronological order. This is confusing to the young brain; this chronology doesn’t coincide with their real life experience and works against the brain developing an understanding of time sequencing. This puts the child at a disadvantage with regard to following directions and understanding the order of things.
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4. Imagination & Creativity
Television stifles the imagination. Through television our imagination is replaced with someone else’s ideas of how things should look, how they should be. This puts limits on a child’s naturally explorative imagination and creativity. The screen, and what is being viewed, supplants the child's own thoughts: The brain's natural inclination to create and imagine cannot blossom it is literally short circuited.
5. Coping Skills
When a child spends a great deal of time in front of the screen they are missing out on chances to bond with family and friends. Television can become a kind of crutch, a replacement for real interactions, seducing the child into a world in which only they and the screen exist. The child can then turn to the television for distraction, for comforting, even what feels to them like nurturing, when things are going wrong; the child ends up missing out on the chance to learn healthy coping skills through involvement with others and the real world, skills that are a vital and necessary part of maturation.
6. Independent Play Skills
The less television and screen time the child is exposed to, the more likely the child will engage in free independent creative play. This kind of play is immensely beneficial to a child because it is during this time that a child is completely engaged with their environment, perhaps another playmate, and just as importantly, themselves. The child doesn’t look to electronics for pleasure and instant gratification, but rather, can entertain himself with the infinite number of creative ideas the mind is naturally capable of. Experienced educators know and see this as optimal play; screen time however, can hinder and diminish this experience.
7. Attention Span Dramatically Decreased
This can be described as 'media induced ADD', which occurs when images change rapidly and then the brain becomes accustomed to this constant change. Many teachers have observed an increasing lack of ability to focus as well as impatience, which coincides with an increase in screen time over the years.
8. The Backfiring Babysitter
What happens when the TV, smart phones, iPads, and computer screens get shut off? Parents justify using them to occupy and pacify their children while the parent needs to make dinner or complete a task, but this short term benefit carries a long term price. When the screens get shut off, kids often require some other extrinsic form of entertainment. If the child had learned to play, as children have done through the ages, they will actually become more self-sufficient and able to entertain themselves with healthy play, not a mechanized babysitter. If they have not learned to play in the real world or to find ways to entertain themselves, then they become lost and easily frustrated.
9. The Influence of TV Storylines and Subject Matter on Children’s Play
If you take the time to listen to children involved in role play games, you will notice that they are acting out the influences they see in their lives and especially through screen time. For instance, if the child watches Batman, then Batman will be acted out. The child is unable to make any kind of judgments about whether this is a ‘good’ story to use in their play. Children simply imitate what they see. The same holds true for violent storylines and imagery as the child ages.
10. Violent Content as Children Get Older
It is hard to put the television on and avoid programs that include guns and violence, because these are the images that attract the most viewers; these are the images that bring advertising dollars. While a young child watching children’s programing might be able to avoid these types of images, once they develop a television habit it won’t be long before they have moved on to exposure of violence even if they are not specifically viewing violent programing because of the advertisements for movies and other programs.
Living without Screens
There are many families that have minimized, eliminated, or never offered screen time in the first place. The children growing up in these families naturally spend more time together, with friends, or comfortably with themselves. They have learned how to entertain themselves through creative play, games, outside play time, reading a book or interacting with others. When they play, they use their creativity and imagination. Their ideas are not limited or guided by the TV shows and movies that they watch, instead their imaginations are limitless, glorious and beautiful. Because their minds have not been restricted and shaped by strong media influences they have obtained the creative ability that is the foundation for necessary life skills such as problem solving, inventions, writing, a love of literature, music and knowledge itself. It is predicted that these creative skills are the ones that will be sought after when technological automation will have taken over so many jobs in the future.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Great article on May 03, 2020:
Woke me up.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 07, 2019:
We are entering a time of interactive games with buddies at five PM. Only buddies from classes at school. How fun. Us parents chit chat. 20 total. And we got him enrolled in online reading "competitions". Looking for a Spanish and a Vietnamese language games.
But after our 30 minute water gun fight and reading assignments we are looking for time! We barely have time for soccer and cooking lessons and now we are ready for music stuff.
Squeezing in time for the IPAD is tough. Thanks for this article, it keeps me on my toes.
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on May 07, 2019:
Hi Ksenija, it sounds like you are offering your children an excellent foundation for healthy development, I applaud you! Thank you for your compliment.
Ksenija from Novo mesto, Slovenia on April 15, 2019:
I am soooo happy that we don't have a television at home. My girls watch some cartoon sometimes, let's say twice a month. They are both so very sensitive and dynamic and screen-time 'kills' them - they become over-stimulated and nervous. So a lot of movement, activities after screen-time. And we practice strictly at least 3 hours a day outside no matter weather. Limited screen-time and a lot of free-play outside - that is what children need.
Thank you for the article.
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on April 15, 2019:
Yes, Ciel, very much agreed and parents need to set a healthy example...good point!
Thank you for checking back and commenting with great points and ideas!
I really like that you are mindful about limits of computer/media time use. I especially like your 20 minute breakdowns because they allow freedom within limits to explore and interact with each other as well. There was a study done that showed that when students are collaborating while using a computer it negates the down sides that individual computer use can have (this does not include gaming). Ipads are a great tool, I love mine, but like you say, moderation and responsibility are key. I think we are all being challenged with this one.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 11, 2019:
I left this on "follow". Still disturbing. Our routine now is an hour at 20 minute sections separated by other stuff. 20 minutes interactive. 20 minutes free time. 20 minutes kind of kid research or whatever. We look up stuff together like the Largest animal ever or Neil Armstrong on the moon.
Just an added thing. I was on a Title 1 school council. We allocated Ipads and they are a great success at school. Moderation and responsible use - so cool with any tool.
Ciel Clark from USA on April 06, 2019:
Definitely think screen time should be limited- not just for kids, also adults. Working on that! Great post.
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on January 22, 2016:
Good to hear that you have been firm. Thank you!
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on January 22, 2016:
Yes! Children need physical activity, and lots of it! Thank you.
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on January 22, 2016:
7 hours constitutes 1/4 of the day and 1/2 of the wakeful hours for a child, these numbers are difficult to digest and really any person with common sense has to know that it can't be good. Screen time for kids has only been increasing, with many parents unaware of the effects. Thank you for your comment! Knowledge is power.
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 21, 2016:
Way too much time is wasted on tv, computer games, social media, etc. I have had to put my foot down. I like your analysis.
LM Gutierrez on January 21, 2016:
Great article! Children nowadays barely have physical activities, hence hampering their development and "exploration" skills.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 19, 2016:
Wow -- 7 hours a day? I feel guilty at our 1.5 a day on weekends. We just plain have too much to do to watch a screen for any longer. And on weekdays where do people get the time? Good article - and I am still shaking my head.