Watch your kids!

Watch your kids!
Updated 27 March 2013

Watch your kids!

Watch your kids!

A paper recently published in a leading British medical journal urged doctors and government health officials to set limits on the amount of time children spend in front of screens, whether TVs, tablets, smartphones, or other devices.
Psychologist Aric Sigman, expert on the impact of media and screen dependency and author of the paper published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, warned that children’s addiction to TV, computers and screen games is causing developmental damage and long-term physical ill health.
It is not the first time health professionals are ringing the alarm bells about the probable negative impact of screens on children and grownups alike. Previous studies linked the amount of time spent watching TV with obesity levels, disturbed sleeping patterns and stunted language development in children aged two or younger.
Sigman recommended keeping under-threes away from screens altogether, as this stage of life is a critical time for brain growth. Exposure has been linked to concentration problems and delays in language acquisition, among others. Besides, children under two don’t really understand what is happening on a screen.
Despite these concerns, children’s exposure to screens keeps growing, especially since the introduction of smartphones and tablets. According to Sigman in his study, in Britain, children have regular access to an average of five different screens at home by the age of 10 and nearly one in three American infants has a TV in their bedroom. A few months ago, a study in the international journal Pediatrics also measured children’s indirect exposure to TV for the first time, as opposed to foreground television exposure. It found that kids in the US are exposed on average to almost four hours of background TV a day and children under two to 5.5 hours.
As a result, pediatric societies in several countries, including the US, Canada and Australia, have set guidelines for limiting screen time.
Some of these recommendations include:
i Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society discourage media use by children younger than two years while understand this is a challenge to achieve within most families.
i Set time limits for the whole family, whether parents and children. This includes all screens, whether TVs, laptops, smartphones, tablets and gaming devices. The Canadian Paediatric Society advises parents to reduce television viewing to less than one to two hours per day for older children and to avoid making TV part of the daily routine. Instead, organize other activities with the whole family, such as going to a park or the beach, playing football or other games or playing a board game.
i Do not place TV sets in your child’s bedroom, and do not allow your child to watch TV before going to bed, as it will disturb sleeping patterns.
i Do not breastfeed your child while watching TV or checking your phone. This will not only distract the child – who will not learn to notice physical cues of feeling full, thus forming the foundation of bad eating habits – but also prevents the mother and child from bonding, which is extremely important.
i Do not put your kids in front of the TV if you cannot attend to them for a moment. It is good for children to learn to play independently. This will allow a child’s mind to grow, develop creative and problem-solving skills and teach them how to think innovatively and entertain themselves. However, it is also important to sit down with your child and play with him or her.
i Do not play media in the background, as this also distracts babies from focusing on the task at hand. So, turn off the TV and other screens when you do not use them.
i Instead of watching TV, encourage your child to play, talk, or read it a book. Reading and talking with your child is very important for the development of language. Studies show the more TV children watch, the lower their reading scores and the less well socialized they are in the first grade.
i In many families, it is impossible to prevent children from watching any TV at all. If your child watches something, make sure you check the content – educational shows can have a positive effect – and watch the program together. While watching a TV show with your baby, talk, point, play and sing along.
i For toddlers, choose programs in which characters are talking directly to your child and there are clear links between spoken words and what is happening on the screen. Also, make sure your toddler only watches programs where characters treat each other with care and respect and solve problems by talking and helping each other. Naturally, avoid violence.
i Listen to music as a relaxing alternative for TV.
i Be aware that your own viewing habits will influence your children. Change them if necessary.

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