Young kids today spend a ton of time staring at screens -- nearly 2 hours a day, in fact, according to a new analysis of the 8-and-under set from Common Sense Media. And while there’s ton of guidance out there about how best to limit your child’s exposure, I’ve ignored all of it.
Here’s the thing: I don’t regulate my kids’ screen time. Never really have. Don’t really plan to in the future. There. I said it. In my house, we watch TV. In fact, my kids regularly hit that 2-hour mark on weekdays. And on weekends? Sometime (gasp!) they spend 4 or 5 hours in front of a screen, thanks to cell phone games, cartoons and a movie.
And, you know what? They’re fine. Better than fine, in fact. They do great in school. They play sports year-round. They love to ride their bikes up and down the block. They read every day. (The state of their bedrooms? Well, that's another story.)
Now, I’m not going to lie: I’m glad they never got into video games. And do I wish they chose something besides Jesse, Sam and Cat and Good Night, Charlie for their viewing pleasure? Of course. Those shows are painful. Would I prefer if they didn’t beg for a marathon viewing of Full House reruns? Um, yeah.
But my kids like that stuff -- just like I loved The Facts of Life, Alice and Family Ties. I watched a lot of TV as a kid, too, and I don’t think it’s bragging to say that my brain didn’t rot, or that I’m not stupid, violent or boring.
Yes, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines say that screen time should be completely avoided for kids under age 2, and that “A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” They say that older kids and teens should limit screen time to one or two hours.
They're the experts.
But, in my house, did it hurt my kids to watch a little Sesame Street or Dora during those early years? You can’t convince me it did. In fact, I think blaming the TV has become a cop-out. “It couldn’t possibly be my poor parenting that turned Janie into a drooling idiot. It was all that Diego she watched.” Um, no. (Honestly, I think Diego actually kinda rocks.)
So, I’m not buying it. And neither is everyone else. A British study released earlier this year found kids who sit in front of the tube for three-plus hours daily aren’t any more likely to experience emotional issues or hyperactivity than their non-TV watching peers, the UK's The Independent reports.
"Initially, we found that watching more than three hours of TV a day was associated with an increase in all problems, but this disappeared when we adjusted for other family influences," Alison Parkes tells the newspaper. "This is perhaps not surprising given the myriad of factors that impact on a child's development. Our work suggests that limiting the amount of time children spend in front of the TV is, in itself, unlikely to improve psychosocial adjustment."
Another study, also from this year, found when parents changed the channel for their kids who were watching violent shows and tuned into educational or “pro-social” programming instead, kids actually became more social than peers whose parents didn’t intervene in turning the channel, ABC News reports.
“Children imitate what they see on screen,” Dr. Dimitri Christakis, of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, tells the network. “They imitate bad behavior, but also good behavior. Parents should take advantage of this. … It’s not just about turning off the TV, but changing the channel.”
Now, that makes sense to me.
So, judge if you must, but if my girls want to unwind with a Saved By the Bell rerun after school, homework, soccer practice, family dinner and bath time? Well, save a spot on the couch for me. For a half-hour of Zach, Kelly, Screech and the gang, I might not even make them change the channel.