Tag Archives: television

Unplug Your Summer!

This is the first summer that my children have not attended some kind of camp during their summer break from school. The lesson I’ve learned? TV is evil!

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!

Video Games: to Play or Not to Play?

I’ll say it right from the beginning: I don’t like video games. It’s strange that I feel that way because my fiancé plays video and computer games like they’re going out of style, most of my friends are gamer geeks and I come from the so-called “Nintendo generation.” I’ve heard nostalgic stories of first video game experiences, been told of young relatives “killing” avatars at early ages (6 months is the earliest I’ve heard) and had intense discussions with people on the subject of video games. It seems everyone has an opinion about it. Personally, my family didn’t own a video game console until I was in middle school. It wasn’t part of my childhood and I think that’s why it’s not really part of my life as an adult.

How young is too young? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends *zero* hours of screen time for children under 2 years of age, which includes TV, videos, computer and video games. Dr. Michael Rich from the Children’s Hospital in Boston shares in the Columbus Dispatch article “Videos Won’t Make Your Baby Smarter” that babies learn in three different ways: by manipulating their physical environment, through face-to-face interaction and through open-ended problem solving opportunities. Watching TV or playing video games does very little to stimulate those methods of learning. I think it’s pretty safe to say under 2 years old is too young.

What about over 2 years old? Did you know there is an EC (Early Childhood) rating for video games, promoted as appropriate for children ages 3 and older? I didn’t until very recently, but there’s a market for it. According to a study released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 92 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-17 play video games. On any given day, 30 percent of all children aged 2-18 will play a video game and those children spend just over an hour (64 minutes) playing on average.

In Michel Marriott’s New York Times article, “Weaned on Video Games,” he reported that the video game industry is hoping to cultivate life-long gamers. They have made game consoles that use bright colors as well as large buttons and games such as, get this, virtual coloring. That’s right, I said VIRTUAL coloring. Do we really need a game where children color virtually? Are paper and crayons defective? Eric Levin, an executive from Techno Source, noted that young children “see their older brothers or older sisters or even their parents playing video games and they want to do what they do.”

There are some positives to video gaming. There has been research that suggests that when video and computer games are played at an early age, these experiences form a foundation for greater computer literacy. There are also studies that indicate children who play interactive video and computer games when they are young improve hand/eye coordination, spatial skills and visual attention.

But what about the negatives, like inhibited social development? Children who play video games are also sedentary rather than active, leading to unhealthy weights. In school-aged children, a survey showed that one in four recognized that their video game playing, at times, interferes with homework and academic performance.

What it boils down to is that children need guidance from adults, whether it’s their parents or caregivers. They shouldn’t spend too much time playing video or computer games no matter how old they are or what the positives may be. In fact, many of the positives can be achieved by doing other activities like sports, hobbies, or coloring with paper and crayons. Everything in moderation. Adults should model and provide a variety of activities for children to do. When they include video games they should do so in the same way that oils and sweets should be included in our diets: sparingly.