Sometimes parenting can be counterintuitive. We think that if we’re buying kids the brightest, flashiest, most expensive toys on the shelf, they must be the most stimulating.
But we’re wrong.
Studies continue to show that old-fashioned staples such as puzzles, blocks, and books outperform today’s fancy electronic toys.
Not only do these toys fail to promote learning in young children, but they can actually lead to a pattern of laziness – a desire to be entertained, rather than think.
This pattern is behind the monstrous controversy going on in our society right now:
What to do about children and screen time.
A few months ago, I wrote a post about why doctors don’t recommend screen time for children younger than two years of age.
I discussed why the real problem isn’t just watching a show now and then, but instilling habits of laziness in children from a young age. This affects them both mentally and physically – in their learning and their development.
There are a lot of articles out there about how to limit screen time in your household, or how to make children earn it. Which shows are educational and which ones aren’t. But I think all of these articles are missing the real point.
Let’s think back a few years to when we were growing up. Some of us grew up in different households, with different rules about media. Some of you probably watched Saturday morning cartoons. You might have owned a Tamagotchi pet. Your family may have watched movies together on occasion.
But I’m willing to bet you weren’t exposed to nearly as much screen media as your children are today.
It’s everywhere! Phones, computers, television, tablets. They even market these products specifically for kids.
Here are some statistics from The Psychiatric Times which illustrate just how vastly media infiltrates our children’s lives:
- Babies (the age group for which screen media is most damaging) are typically exposed to about two hours of screen media per day.
- The average U.S. household watches 8 hours of television per day.
- 65% of children younger than age 6 live in a home where the television is left on for at least half the day.
What effect does this have on our children? Mood and sleep disturbances, increased chance of ADHD diagnoses, learning difficulties, and obesity. That’s just the start.
But here is what I think is the most insidious part of the screen media frenzy:
Children don’t realize there are other things to do.
When my husband and I grew up in the early 1990’s, TV was limited and computer/video games were nonexistent in our homes. We couldn’t just sit back and be entertained. We created our own entertainment.
Pretend play, building blocks, sports, arts and crafts, reading… These were the things we relied on for our entertainment. Each of those things exercised our creative muscles and allowed us to dream bigger, think deeper, and explore more thoroughly the world around us.
But when children are instilled with the knowledge that entertainment is merely a click away, they can find entertaining themselves to be exhausting. Even boring.
They fall back on the easiest course of action – screen media.
And let’s be honest with ourselves, isn’t it easier on us as parents and caregivers to just let them be entertained? It keeps them quiet for hours.
But we aren’t doing our children any favours in the long run if we allow them to live in a pattern of laziness.
Screen media is an addiction. Not a terrible one, like alcohol or heroin which will have immediate health and safety ramifications. But nevertheless is can have a negative impact on their quality of life.
Break the media cycle, and put TV back its place – as an occasional treat, or family event. Don’t leave your children feeling like they have no other choice to entertain themselves.
They have a whole world to explore and learn about. Your job is to help them.