I am taking measures in my home to decrease screen time for my children, but playing outside is apparently the worst suggestion I can make for how they ought to be spending their time! All I hear is how hot it is and that there is nothing to do, but for years both of my children participated in summer camps where they were outside 100 percent of the time sweating their brains out, playing in creeks, building forts and playing games, all the while getting extremely dirty. I could go on and on about the stories they would come home with when I asked them, “So, what did you do today?”
But when I ask that same question these days the answer seems to revolve around a TV character or what new game they found online or which level they finally made it to on their DS. And I have to ask myself, what about the kids out there that spend their summer plugged in because that is the only child care their parents can afford? Or if the child care program they attend while their parents are at work only takes children outside for 15 or 20 minutes per day (if that) to play on the same swing set they have been playing on for years?
Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends absolutely no screen time for children under two due to language delays, this just isn’t the reality in many homes and child care programs. According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, 40 percent of infants are regular viewers of screen media, and preschoolers spend on average 32 hours a week with screen media. The American Academy of Pediatrics also states that school age children shouldn’t be exposed to more than two hours of total screen time per day, but that’s obviously not the case for many children, including mine recently! So, what can we do differently?
While parents can set guidelines for screen time in the home (I am making my children “earn” their TV time by completing chores and spending some much-needed time outside), I would encourage child care programs to avoid TV completely. Children are almost certainly getting some of their screen time at home after they leave our programs, and we have the opportunity during the day to give them new experiences and enrich their lives. I am hard pressed to find something that is more worthwhile on the TV than in real life! The rewards that come from sitting down with a child and reading a book together, playing a game or just talking with them are endless. They feel nurtured, special and are being exposed to new vocabulary. You just can’t replicate that with a screen!