How to find a balance for the right amount of screen time for parents and tamariki.

How much is too much?

‘How much television should young kids watch?’ has been a sticky question for many years. It’s such a convenient babysitter and kids love it, so what’s the problem?

As it turns out, there is research to prove that there are some problems. For some years the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended no screen time for children under 2. For children between 2 and 5 years of age they’ve advised that screen time should be limited to 1 hour per day.

The AAP’s most recent policy statement suggests that families develop plans for using media with different guidelines for each child, depending on their age or stage of development.

Keeping in touch

The AAP does note one big ‘plus’ for digital media, and that’s video chatting — no matter what a child’s age. They’ve recognised the benefits for tamariki who keep in touch with whānau. In this modern world where whānau are scattered all around Aotearoa, or indeed the world, it’s a great way for family members to regularly keep in contact with each other.

There are other positives, too, when parents engage in digital experiences with their tamariki. It encourages shared experiences involving media games, watching together and talking together. The AAP also suggests that there be non-media times, like dinner time, when families can give full attention to each other – both kids and adults. Bed-times should be media-free too.

Who suffers most from device addiction?

Parents’ own online behaviour can be problematic for their tamariki. If a parent’s attention is fixed on a TV or phone screen, who’s missing out? Tamariki can develop issues about their sense of self-worth now and in the future if they are repeatedly ignored or neglected in favour of digital media. Neglect is a serious form of abuse, and even this level of neglect should be recognised as such.

The presence of technology in everyday life means that parents are more available to their work, too, and work can interrupt precious whānau time. Parents who are often distracted by media are providing an unhelpful role model for their tamariki. If we don’t want our children to be glued to devices, we can’t be glued ourselves. Do we want babies building an attachment relationship with their parents or a screen?

Television may appear to act as a babysitter, but the communication is all one way and children’s language and cognitive abilities are not nurtured in a one way process. Young children need another human being engaging with them and reading or talking to them to develop those important social and communication skills.

This article on the Brainwave Trust website called Tots, toddlers and TV: The potential harm(external link) by Anthea Springford and Keryn O’Neill explores the effects of TV watching by young children. It covers research findings about the detrimental effects of TV or DVD watching. It covers issues on its effects on important aspects of children’s lives such as play, parent-child interactions, language development, the ability to discern adult speech and the ability to pay attention.

One of the criticisms people make about the digital world is that children won’t learn how to write because they’re reliant on their digital media. Listen to this talk by Nathan Mikaere-Wallis on When should a child learn to write?(external link) He suggests there’s no rush, and age 7 is a good time to start teaching them.

Here’s another point of view. In this TED talk called Three fears about screen time for kids — and why they're not true(external link), Sara DeWitt talks about the possible positive impacts of screen time and digital media.