Gen X generation grew up in an era where there was no such thing as individual screen time for kids. When we watched television it was as a family while we used commercial breaks as bathroom breaks. These days Gen Z kids are getting up to nine hours per day of screen time according to the CDC.
Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest no more than two hours of screen time per day for children 5 – 17 years old. These days it is common for children in that age range to have their own devices. My children are only six years old and eight years old and at this point they have two devices each (MacBook Air and iPad).
Old timers had to take car rides without devices, sit in our moms shopping cart without screen time, and entertain ourselves while dinner was being cooked without a personal electronic device. Only time will tell how our technology obsessed youth will turn out.
Screen Time as a Tool
Like many parents of young children, due to covid, devices ended up being used as a tool for extended periods of time. Children during covid were required to have devices in order to attend school. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t count hours of screen time during school or used for homework in their advised time limits.
If your child spends three hours on devices at school, three hours in front of a screen watching television after school, and then one hour on technology doing homework that is not considered seven hours of daily screen time. In that instance, your child is thought to have only spent three hours of screen time watching television, because the rest of the time was used as a tool.
Cognitive development through school and activities is vital to your child’s future. It seems the American educational system has accepted the idea of technology as a tool by not counting those hours of screen time. There is a fundamental difference between learning to write a story by hand and speaking into your computer microphone while an application types your story. Some may call that kind of technology advancement, progress. I would argue that kind of application hinders basic cognitive development.
Screen Time While Traveling
Devices used during travel is without a doubt my crutch. All the queues, modes of transportation, and mental concentration it takes to travel have parents sufficiently distracted. Sometimes you just have to fill out a form without twenty questions from well-meaning children flooding your ears.
Letting kids zone out on their age appropriate technology is a sanity saver in the moment. However, don’t overlook the valuable social skills your child will learn by becoming a well traveled. Take opportunities during calm travel moments to explain how or why you behaved certain ways. If you shield your children from all the nuances of adult life they will not have any examples to follow when they find themselves in similar situations.
If you are letting your child use an iPad during travel by all means set yourself up for success. Make sure you have correct parent controls that prevents downloading new apps, making in-app purchases, and have time limits in place.
Pre-load apps that don’t require wi-fi:
If you are traveling across time zones I do not recommend setting up the scheduled shut off times. The 8pm shut off time will be based on your iPad’s time from your home city if you aren’t connected to wi-fi on your trip. Instead you should select a time limit per day such as 3 hours or 4 hours at which point the iPad asks for your passcode to continue being used.
Screen Time as a Babysitter
I will be the first to raise my hand and admit to letting technology baby-sit my kids. In a world of hustle and grind there is a constant state of stress, so a few minutes of peace and quiet is always welcome.
If you have proper parent controls set up you can breathe a little easier knowing the big scary internet won’t corrupt your child. Staying vigilant with your children’s online behavior is certainly a task in itself. Within many of the apps your child uses there might be messaging or chat features you are unaware of. Be sure to have regular conversations with your children about the importance of not sharing personal information online.
Before setting your child loose on technology it is always best to play each app with your child so you know how it works. Eliminating internet search functionality, deleting YouTube, and preventing new app downloads are my most important tips.
Limiting Screen Time
Remember how creative you used to get when you were bored? That is a skill. Keeping a child’s mind in a constant state of entertainment doesn’t allow for emotional development. Get your children to unplug.
Babies learned how to self soothe and as young people they need to learn to relax. If there is always a device in their hand they will never learn to soak in the moment. As you create technology free moments be sure to teach them about mindfulness.
Each moment your child has is unique and different from any other moment there ever was or ever will be. Letting them waste away what will amount to years of their lives on technology is a disservice to them, and to the world. In your child’s boredom they become the people they are meant to be. Give them that time to develop and learn and grow off of their devices.
If your child gets to the point that technology is an emotional pacifier it’s time for some limits. In my opinion it is not healthy to fill boredom, sadness, loneliness, or any other emotion with an iPad fix. Your child needs to learn to identify emotions and either be willing to discuss or take action to solve their own problems. Often technology is used to numb or ignore the emotional need instead of identifying the need.
A tantrum should not be solved with a device. Every tantrum is an emotional need going unmet.
Screen Time for Kids
The debate for acceptable screen time for kids will rage on for decades. You get to decide what you feel is best for your children. The CDC suggests:
- Under 2 years old: Zero screen time, except for video chatting with family or friends
- 2-5 years old: No more than one hour per day co-viewing with a parent or sibling
- 5-17 years old: Generally no more than two hours per day, except for homework
If you worry about the effect light from screens has on your child’s eyes, consider having them wear blue light blocking glasses. None of us will have a perfect solution on handling technology, but the fact you’re thinking about it is vital. Regularly consider the social, emotional, and cognitive growth of too much technology.