Kid Play in the Digital Age - A man using a laptop computer - Stock photography

You don’t need to encounter an oblivious, cellphone-toting individual in the middle of Simonton Street to appreciate the degree to which electronic devices have taken over our lives. Kids are far from the exception to this phenomenon, and studies are beginning to show just how much they are exposed to those screens. A study in Pediatrics found that almost 97 percent of children have used a mobile device, and most started before one year of age. With this trend, are we far off from including a tablet in the nursery discharge pack?

It appears that doing that might not be such a good thing, according to the pediatricians who study such things. Specialists have spent quite a bit of time in recent months researching, reporting and recommending where screen time is concerned. Let’s talk a little bit about what they’ve found, and what’s being said about it all in 2018 and 2019.

It’s been known for a while that according to studies, excessive screen time can be associated with obesity and aggressive behavior in children. In addition, it’s been long suggested that too much time in front of the devices can hurt early child development — for example, kids may not pick up language as quickly. A recent study asked the question: “Is it really the screens, or are we just putting delayed children in front of them more—for example, to calm them?” When they allowed for that possibility, they still found that too much electronic exposure was associated with too little development.

I know what you’re thinking. You may counter, “But I’m very careful to only put on those fancy programs determined by an independent agency to produce child geniuses.” While this may seem logical and is well-meaning, the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Early Childhood has other thoughts, according to a statement from them that’s hot off the press. They tell us that in order to foster good development, child play should involve: 

1) Interaction with caregivers (read: parents!)

2) Pretending 

3) Problem solving 

4) Talking 

5) Physical activity (at least some of the time)

Although it’s unlikely for most toys to do all of this, screen-based activities are hard-pressed to do much of it at all. And you, as a caregiver, can do all of it with your child! (It’s sort of good to know that human beings still have a place in our current world.)

It may seem like a tall order with everything else going on, but at the end of the day — literally, sometimes — play is fun. And a bonus is that it need not be expensive. Perhaps the current lure of electronic devices is too great, but back in the day, everyone had stories of getting their young child a large, expensive toy, only to have them play all sorts of games with the box it came in.

Bottom line: the recommendation is to shut off that electronic device after one hour. Yes, one hour. Actually, it’s best to eliminate electronics altogether between ages 1 and 2. Families should think about sitting down together and coming up with a media plan, so that family interaction time is preserved and screen time is reasonable. Even though things are busy, don’t deny yourself the joy of playing with your kids.

Need more ideas? There are lots of websites out there that will offer up some. One site that gives parents some great suggestions on choosing toys for toddlers is Have fun! 

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