In 2016, Jenny Radesky, MD and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, authored the American Academy of Pediatrics digital media guidelines for children, and her insights are crucial in helping us make informed decisions about media and early childhood development today. As Dr. Radesky stated, “Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep. What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.”
But, at times, the very opposite happens when it comes to media and young people. We see it all too often: a parent, perhaps needing a bit of a break, perhaps a bit too tired to engage fully with his or her child, hands over a smartphone or a tablet to soothe a child instead.
Should my toddler have screen time or not? This is an area of considerable discussion. In our highly-connected digital world, it is challenging for any of us, including children, to not come across screens. As a result, it is helpful to distinguish between active and passive screen time. What are key distinctions between passive and active screen time? Passive or sedentary screen time as defined by EdSurge occurs “when a child passively consumes digital content with no thought, creativity or interaction required to progress.” Active or interactive screen time involves cognitive or physical engagement as part of the experience.
The concern surrounding passive screen time centers upon its sedentary nature and its close relationship to obesity, patterns of problematic behavior, underdeveloped social skills, and lack of active play. While these concerns are valid, passive screen time can be changed into active screen time quite easily.
In a report published by the Mayo Clinic (“Screen time and children: How to guide your child”) screen time can be made active by taking the following steps:
- Sharing screen time with your child. Make screen time a shared activity.
- Talking to your child about what they see on the screen and connecting it to their world.
- Looking for opportunities to take the on-screen content and making it participatory.
In addition, parents should preview content and ensure appropriateness for the age of the child. The ability to control and filter the content, without any advertisements whatsoever, are all within the control of parents. Children need to understand how to have a healthy and responsible relationship with media, and parents and guardians, as “media mentors,” can show children how to integrate media into their lives in a balanced and appropriate way.