If pediatricians went by what their patients ““ and many of their patients’ parents ““ told them, they’d believe the majority of kids aren’t spending more than two hours in front of TVs or electronics a day.
The reality, however, is drastically different.
“Studies show that preschool-age kids are getting about four hours of ‘screen time’ a day, and school-age kids are getting closer to five hours,” said Dr. John La Count, a pediatrician at St. Elizabeth Physicians’ Florence location.
“People tell you what you want to hear,” La Count said. “If we were in their homes, we would see considerably more television watching than what they’re telling us, but the problem is, we have no way of knowing.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids under 2 should have no screen time whatsoever, kids at the preschool age should have no more than one hour of screen time per day, and kids who are school age should have no more than two hours per day.
“TV does help with some cognitive skills in terms of language acquisition, but it doesn’t help them learn the give and take of conversation,” La Count said.
Plus, it limits parent-child interaction.
Parents generally put the TV on when they need some peace and quiet and, because the kids aren’t noisy or underfoot anymore, they don’t ask questions about what is on the screen or how a child feels about what he or she is watching.
Also, because parents often use electronics as a tool when they need a break, they’re less likely to monitor what their kids are watching or playing on video games, computers or iPads, letting inappropriate material seep into their kids’ exposure.
So, what’s a parent to do?
- Understand that TV and other electronics are not serving a purpose other than entertainment.
- Know that electronics such as TV and video games are one-way media, and your kids are going to be affected by the marketing of cigarettes and alcohol and whatever else that particular program wants them to buy. They’re also going to be affected by the glorification of violence and sex.
- Take responsibility for your children’s electronic habits.
“I’ve seen so many kids come in with smartphones that are better than my phone,” La Count said. “They are constantly texting and on Facebook and the parents aren’t regulating who they’re talking to or when they’re talking to them.”
- Pull TVs and other electronics out of kids’ bedrooms.
Over the past year, La Count said pediatricians have seen an increase in patients coming in complaining about sleep issues when the problem is that they’re texting or watching TV at night.
Bottom line? “If parents don’t actively participate in what their kids are doing with electronics, they’re setting themselves up for big problems,” La Count said.