Illuminated screens are harming children. One study estimated that children between the ages of 2-5 spend 32 hours a week in front of a TV, an average of over 4 hours a day. Kids between 6-11 spend 28 hours a week watching TV, as well as additional hours on hand held devices and video consoles.
It is felt that the screen epidemic is the causative factor in a multitude of health issues, from ADHD to childhood obesity. Additional concerns have been raised about the content of what children watch. Television programs can reinforce negative stereotypes and contradict the values parents want to teach their children. Even when parents install internet filters, handheld devices with internet access can lead to children being exposed to adult content.
In response to these and other concerns the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out strongly in favor of limiting the amount of time children spend looking at screens. Recommendations are that the total time looking at screens of all types should be less than two hours daily. This is a good start but may not go far enough.
In spite of all of the data and research there is one aspect of children and screens that is frequently overlooked. Their parents are spending too much time looking at screens when they should be looking at their children. I saw this first hand this week while walking in the park near my home.
I was walking near the playground when I came across a father with a young boy. A bicycle on the ground near them revealed how they had arrived at the park for their Sunday afternoon outing. The child, who looked to be about 4 years old, was playing at the edge of the sand near where the playground equipment was located, drawing in the sand in the stick. The father was 6 feet away, lying on his stomach in the grass, thoroughly engrossed in his iPhone, paying no attention to what his child was doing. He was more interested in what was on the screen then he was in what his son was doing.
The father reminded me of how much we have lost to our screen obsessions. I wonder how many conversations have been skipped, how many stories gone untold, how many jokes unshared, because either the parent or the child was looking at a screen. It seems that the American Academy of Pediatrics is on the right track with their recommendations but it is too narrow. The limit should be extended to parents as well!