I am very interested in the impact of media on our children’s health and wellbeing, and I admit it: I always make time to pitch my ideas about screen time during check-up visits, but there are so many topics to cover and in a very limited time, as parents well know. It goes without saying that I don’t want them to get lost in the forest for all the trees of advice so I was really feeling the need for a media/technology sound bite that would resonate at any age and stage of a child’s life. I was looking for ways to consistently ask about how families view technology and media, and I needed a springboard to talk about what evidence we currently have, to streamline or individualize ideas and advice.
It seems to me that there are increasing numbers of families who rely on the expertise of others, many of whom they find on the Internet. I want parents to rely on face-time with me in equal measure. If the tendency is there to perseverate, consume and struggle to apply every bit of parenting advice found, I want to inspire confidence in personal judgment and common sense, too, when it comes to parenting, technology and media use.
Screens surround us, so much so that we hardly see them all! As a pediatrician, I am in a unique position to answer questions like, “Does the AAP really mean I can’t even have Oprah on TV in the background if my toddlers in the room? How much screen time is OK?” Simply being more mindful of screens in one’s life is a good place to start if you really want the answer to that last question.
Who hasn’t handed over a device in the restaurant to get through the main course waiting game? Mini-vans come with built-in DVD players, and my bank now has a TV streaming as I wait in line. These screens are tools to amuse and distract, but one overlooked price we pay for them is simply lost time with one another. This cost, arguably, is as important as the monetary investment we parents make to have the latest devices for our children. My sense is that we should be pondering both costs more than we do.
“Tool or Toy?” I have begun to ask. “How do you see screen time in your home, and what does it cost you?” Tools live in the world of work and learning and efficiency: something grownups value. Toys define the world of fun, relaxation and play, and our kids live mostly in this world. Both have their place in healthy families, and I would argue that each role is valuable to consider if it’s the intention of parents to serve up a healthy Media Diet.
As I have begun to talk more about the importance of a balanced media diet the ‘Tools and Toys’ image has been useful to open those conversations. The sound bite doesn’t feel judgmental to me, nor does it feel as though I am endorsing any one view of screen time over another. I sometimes share ways in which my smartphone is both tool and toy, but I’m also honest in saying that I have begun to monitor my own play time on it.
There is a rapidly changing landscape of available media tools and toys, and they are to some degree both good and bad in how they affect children. I’ll end my thoughts by asking readers to offer their own experience of good media tools and toys in the comments section below. Until next time…
Gayle Schrier Smith, MD
Pedia-media-trician at Partners In Pediatrics, PC