By Jennifer Allison
Media. This has to be one of the biggest topics in early childhood that everyone wants to know how to define. What is too much screen time?
Let’s start with the basic facts about young children, and dive into what is going on developmentally in the newborn and the young child. Children, specifically from 0 to 3 years of age, come into the world very open to life, with heightened sensitivities and completely dependent upon us for love and care. They are not able to filter out the adult world, which is full of stimuli and fast-paced demands. Their brains are in a state of constant flux, reacting to their surroundings, developing and pruning unused neural pathways in their first 3 years of life, and adjusting to the state of immense sensory input they now find themselves in.
When we give our young children a screen to watch, the learning becomes passive, which will change the way the brain process information with long-term exposure. Strong images live deeply in the mind of children under the age of 7, which is also why you will see a child who has seen a lot of TV engage in play that is scripted. Their own imagination is overridden with what they perceive as real and intense images that they have taken into their being when they watch TV. Also, because it is a mental activity, young children who are exposed to a lot of media have trouble being in their bodies. They get agitated easier, and sometimes you can see them bounce around the room right after they have watched a television program or listened to loud music. I am sure we have all experienced this.
We are also a culture of instant gratification when it comes to media and information technology. We can just pick up a smart phone and get the answer, or pass a short YouTube video off to our child at a grocery store to pacify him/her to get a few extra minutes of quietude as we finish shopping. I wonder if we didn’t put so much on ourselves and live the lives we do with all of its demands, there might just be more of us to go around, so these modern conveniences would not need to be our default mode.
Most importantly, what I want to share that has been true from my own experience, as well as from talking to other parents, is that my family is happier when we feel connected to one another. We play games, we go hiking, we laugh, and we read together, we make arts and crafts, we bake, we have mud fights in the garden, and we enjoy snuggling at night. We find other ways to share time together that cultivate relationships beyond the television. I think it is important to know what is happening developmentally with your child, to be aware of how your scheduled home life affects your child, and then to make choices about media in your home that model your values and the life you strive to live. When is doubt, I always lean towards simplicity. The last week in April is TV turn off week, and I challenge you to go for it! Who knows, you may just find a deeper, richer connection with your family if you try going screen-free for one week.
Jennifer Allison is the parent child teacher at Gnome’s Home. Gnome’s Home is the little brother of Heart in Hand Preschool and focuses on fun and wholesome classes for the littlest ones and their adults! For more info please check gnomeshome.org