by Dr. Meghan Burke

Today, parenting means finding a balance between time spent on devices and screen-free time. This isn’t so different from days when parents were tasked with setting limits on what programs you could watch on TV, how close you were allowed to sit to the TV, and how many hours you could watch per day. Now that devices are mobile and potentially available all the time, there’s an increased need for parents to monitor appropriate use of technology.

The American Academy of Pediatricians has some parameters for screen time:

  • For children younger than 18 months, screen time should be avoided (other than video chatting).
  • For children 18–24 months, you may watch digital media with your children. By watching media together, your children learn from watching and talking with you about the video content.
  • For children ages 2–5, you may limit screen time one hour per day of high-quality programming. Again, watching together is best. This enables young children to be retaught in the real world what they learned through a screen.

A really simple rule to remember when it comes to screen time and young children is engagement.

To this end, let’s consider how you can engage your child through technology. It is important for you to watch the media with your child and then discuss the content. For example:

  • If you are watching a video about letters, you can work with your child to identify letters in your home or in the community. For example, if the video mentioned the letter “d,” you can reiterate this later when you are having dinner or petting the dog.
  • If your child has a doctor’s or dentist’s visit, you may watch a video about going to the doctor/dentist before your child’s visit. This way, you can preview the upcoming visit with your child. This could also work if your child needs X-rays, surgery, or an invasive procedure.
  • If you are trying to create a bedtime routine, you may include a lullaby or sleeptime video or song. This can become a tradition in your bedtime routine. Also, if your child is sleeping at grandma’s house or is on vacation, you can use the lullaby or video in another location to maintain the bedtime routine there.
  • If you are trying to introduce new foods, you may find a video about the new food. By sharing a video about the food and other children eating the food, you can help model that the food may taste good.

Remember, it is important to engage with your child about videos and use screen time selectively. When used appropriately and in moderation, technology can be a great tool!

Originally written for the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Newsletter: Spring 2019

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