The Screen Time Babysitter

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

It’s a common sight these days to see young children sitting in restaurants or traveling on planes or in vehicles playing on their parents’ iPhones or using tablets. Whether they’re watching videos on YouTube or playing educational games, they are completely engrossed in what’s happening on the screen – and often completely oblivious to the world around them.

Jeff Rossen, a journalist with NBC News, spent a segment watching two 6-year-olds in different households ignore their surroundings while on iPads. Despite their parents walking through the room with wigs, clashing cymbals, and even a huge stuffed animal, the kids did not lift their eyes from the screens. And this absorption is one of the reasons parents cite for allowing their children to use the devices: technology keeps them happily engaged and quiet.

In fact, the average American child spends up to seven hours every day looking at a screen. If that seems like a lot to you, consider this: the average American adult spends more than ten and a half hours each day looking at computers, smartphones, tablets and television. We spend more time looking at screens than we do sleeping. Whereas we may remember playing outside until our parents called us in for dinner, most of our kids spend less than 30 minutes each day in unstructured outdoor play.

Is this a problem? There is plenty of research that says it is. For one thing, our sedentary lifestyle is contributing to a rise in childhood obesity, which has tripled since the 1970s. In addition, not only are more children being diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – that rate has risen 42 percent over the past decade – but they are diagnosed at a much earlier age. And according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2004, participation in green outdoor activities significantly reduced ADHD symptoms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report last year with updated guidelines for how much time kids should spend on electronic devices. They recommend that infants and toddlers under age 2 be limited to video chatting only (such as Skype or Facetime with relatives). For kids ages 2–5, they recommend only one hour of screen time per day spent with “high quality programming,” such as Sesame Street or educational games. Parents are encouraged to set limits on screen time for children older than 6 years according to their own preferences, although the AAP does recommend that all kids get at least an hour of physical activity each day, preferably outside.

Many parents use devices as a way to keep their kids occupied, particularly in public places. What other options are there? Joanne DeGiacomo Petrie, director of early childhood education at the Jewish Alliance of RI, suggests bringing books, Play-Doh or crayons along to encourage both creativity and fine motor development. “It’s a great way for parents to engage their children in conversation and to play interactive games with them, to help them to use their imaginations and to take note of their surroundings – counting the prongs on a fork, or looking for colors that match the pictures, for example.”

She also finds that children who spend a lot of time “swiping” on devices often have weaker fine motor skills, particularly those needed for handwriting. They often don’t hold their writing implements correctly because they lack the dexterity to maintain a pincer grasp. To keep kids happy in a car, try giving them dry erase markers and allowing them to write or draw on the windows; these markers wipe off easily, and help them build skills.

For kids who have a great deal of difficulty sitting still, Petrie recommends “wiggle seats” or weighted lap pads or shoulder wraps. These items help children who may need more sensory input, and they can be ordered online. She also stresses that family excursions out at dinner or in the car are an excellent time not only to strengthen conversational skills, but also for parents to connect with kids in a meaningful way.

Technology is a huge part of our daily lives, and avoiding screen time entirely may be almost impossible. But we can still monitor and limit our kids’ screen time, make sure that they have opportunities to play outside and interact with other children, and engage them in meaningful conversations and activities that build their imaginations and creativity.

Smart News

Martin Luther King/Lippitt Hill Elementary School 50th Anniversary
Betty Hodgkinson Wedderburn, an “original” faculty member at the Lippitt Hill Elementary School, which opened in Providence in September of 1967, is organizing a 50th anniversary celebration of the school. (The school was renamed to honor Dr. King after his assassination in 1968.) The party will be held on Tuesday, September 19, at 7pm in the school auditorium. All current and former students and their families, instructional aides, volunteers, faculty and staff are invited to attend the program. Anyone who was at the school in 1967 is invited to an informal “meet and greet” at 5:45 followed by a tour of the school. A very enthusiastic committee is working hard to plan the celebration, and they hope to see many faces from the past.

Montessori Children’s House Welcomes New Head

In July, Montessori Children’s House (MCH) welcomed Melanie Wilson, M.Ed., as its new head of school. Most recently, Wilson was director of education at Riverbend School in Natick, MA; she lives in Hopkinton, MA, with her husband. She has found that MCH is a place where “classrooms are vibrant and engaging, yet quiet and peaceful; a place where children are at ease. In this true Montessori school, the students move about freely and talk with each other, but have a clear sense of responsibility to their work and what they want to achieve. I am proud to join this gem of a school and lead the teaching team to the next path on the MCH journey.”

College Visions Names New Executive Director
Nick Figueroa, Jr., is the new executive director of College Visions, a nonprofit organization that empowers low-income, first-generation students to enroll, persist in and graduate from college. Tim Monroe, chair of the Board of Directors, is especially thrilled to welcome Figueroa: “With his proven record of leadership, professional experience working with first-generation college students, deep connections to the communities in which College Visions works, and his own experience as a first-generation college student, we could not ask for a better candidate.” Figueroa is looking forward to working with the passionate and dedicated staff at College Visions.

lauri lee, education, east side monthly, screen time, babysitter, kids screen time, american journal of public health, american academy of pediatrics, aap, Joanne DeGiacomo Petrie, Jewish Alliance of RI, martin luther king, lippitt hill elementary, betty hodgkinson wedderburn, montessori children's house, melanie wilson, riverbend school, college visions, nick figueroa, Tim Monroe