Life at Home: What to do about Screen Time
Updated: Mar 23
Not All Screen Time is Created Equal
Everything is moving online—including Mi Casa Es Tu Casa®. But even while we all stay home to keep our families safe and curb the spread of this virus, what we know about screen time hasn’t changed—too much can be detrimental to a child’s development. So what can parents do?
Instead of setting a timer and limiting all screen time equally, if we dig deeper and understand why passive screen time is harmful to our children, we will begin to see that not all screen time is negative.
Why Passive Screen Time Is Harmful
Below are the 3 main takeaways that we summarized for you. You can read more about the effects of media on children in the report “Media and Young Minds” from Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
1) It replaces the good stuff
The truth is, for every moment children are in front of a passive screen, they are not moving, playing, or having human interaction. It’s this loss of interaction with our real, three-dimensional world that has the most severe impact on cognitive, social, and emotional development in children.
“What too much screen time leads to is a variety of missed opportunities for learning and development…When a child is watching a screen, he or she is missing out on the opportunity for walking, talking and interacting with others” Sheri Madigan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Calgary in Canada in this article from TIME Magazine.
2) It affects attention span, emotional development, and sleep
Attention Span: One Netflix episode ends, and before you know it, another one has begun. Even within the show itself, the quick and constant cuts from one scene to another, groom our children to expect the same level of stimulation in their day-to-day lives. Children have to practice sustained attention to tolerate frustration, and—heaven forbid! —boredom.
Emotional Development: Children need real-time, in-person interactions to understand their own emotions and those of others. Seeing a character on a show become sad because they lost a toy is nothing compared to taking a toy from a friend and seeing his or her face in person grow frustrated. It’s nothing compared to experiencing that friend then try to grab the toy back from you.
Sleep: You’ve probably heard about blue light, that harsh glow that comes from our phones and computers as we absorb news, shows, and email throughout the day and, sometimes, right before bed. Sometimes (gasp), in bed. It’s the same for our children. Screens make it more difficult for kids to fall asleep, and result in lower quality sleep.
3) It is sedentary
Last year the World Health Organization released new guidelines for sleep, screen time, and physical activity in children under 5 years old. As you can imagine, passive screen time is a main contributor to childhood obesity because it is so sedentary.
How to Make Screen Time Positive
1) Be mindful of the way your children watch
By watching with your children, you can engage them by pointing things out, asking questions about how a character feels, and snuggling close; you’re turning a passive activity into an active one. With this support, the show can serve as a way for children to make connections and boost language development.
And as for when we engage in screen time, remember that getting good sleep is one of the most impactful ways to boost the immune system, and it’s a key part of any child’s healthy development. It’s best not to introduce screen time at least two hours before bed.
2) Be intentional about what your children watch
It’s hard to choose the right show for your children when they are there watching you scroll through the options yelling, “That one! That one!” Do your research before deciding to watch a show. Consult PBS or Common Sense Media for ideas. Choose shows that reflect the cultural diversity of the world around us.
3) Encourage interactive screen time
If there’s a face on the other end of the screen, especially someone your child knows and loves ( a faraway grandma, grandpa, uncle, cousin, or friend), it doesn’t count as harmful screen time. I love the subheading of this New York Times article, “When it comes to warnings about limiting kids’ screen time, grandparents are, well, grandfathered in.” Video chatting with real people, the article says, “can enhance bonding and recognition.”
4) Model healthy media consumption
Your own screen time habits can also have detrimental effects on your child: if you’re constantly looking at your phone, you’re missing opportunities to connect. If you’re always plugged into some kind of device, you’re sending the message to your child that screen time is actually OK. Try leaving your phone in a different part of the house. Or turning it off during meals, bedtime, and other special time dedicated to your children.
5) Create a balance of quality activities for your child
When your children are not absorbed in a screen, read to them. Allow them to be bored and find their own fun. Send your kids out into the back yard. Sing, engage, interact. It’s not enough just to limit screen time. We need to make sure we’re balancing it with quality imaginary play, interaction, and physical activity.
New Online Classes from Mi Casa Es Tu Casa®
Last week we announced that, like so many other organizations, we are moving our programming online. Like FaceTime with grandparents, we are making sure that we fall under the positive screen time category. Here’s how:
1) There’s a loving face on the other side
Whether you’ve taken classes at Mi Casa Es Tu Casa® before or not, you’ll soon find out that our teachers are animated, expressive, and loving—with a special ability to connect with children. Our online classes will be live, because nothing can take the place of real-time interaction.
2) Parents/caregivers participate
The same model that we have always practiced in class applies here: if you have your baby in your arms, keep the beat, otherwise, give ‘em a show! Parents need to be following along with the teacher, keeping the beat, and dancing up a storm in their living rooms during class. This is more important than it has ever been.
3) A dynamic platform will foster interactions with other families
We are designing our online class so that families see not only the teacher, but also other parents and kids participating. As with our in-person classes, your interactions with other families is important too!
4) We are a source of cultural and linguistic diversity
It’s so important for children to learn at an early age that we don’t all look the same, hold the same beliefs or even speak the same way! Exposing your children to Spanish language songs and music from Latin American and Spanish culture is a wonderful way of broadening your child’s world.
5) We get kids moving!
This is not sedentary screen time. We are bouncing, dancing, wiggling and shaking.
Stay positive, stay engaged. Our children are watching us. One way of maintaining a semblance of normalcy during all of this, is to keep your weekly date with Mi Casa Es Tu Casa®. We are all in this together.
Alice Gray is a writer and editor living in Austin, Texas. She has attended classes at Mi Casa es Tu Casa® since her daughter was 2 years old, and is a big believer in the benefits of early childhood movement, music, language, play, and connection.