I remember right after our daughter was born my husband and myself were filled with so much bliss. We were so excited to be a family of three. Our lives were never going to be the same. This also meant that as we spent every second of the day with her we realized that TV might not be the best thing to have on around her. That is when we sat down together to talk about the bigger picture: How we wanted to raise our kids in relation to media and technology. The main issue that we were grappling with at the time was simply at what age do we want her to see TV and eventually play on our mobile devices, computers, etc.? She was a newborn, but we knew that she would grow quickly and have the potential to be exposed to so much at such an early age. Simply put, we needed to figure out what our stance on media was going to be for our family. Our decision. Wait on TV all together and go media lite.
Now to give you some background about me, as an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara I helped conduct research for the National Television Violence Study. Before grad school I worked in the Communication Lab at UC Santa Barbara to help with other media studies that looked at sex in television and how children are portrayed in the news. I currently teach media literacy and interpersonal communication at Santa Barbara City College. So I am well aware of the positive and negative impacts media has on our society.
SOME RESEARCH WORTHY OF READING/VIEWING
The average child spends a lot of time consuming media messages on a daily basis. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics website on media and children, “Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices.” For this reason, they recommend that parents supervise their children’s media consumption.
In a TED TALK about children and media consumption, Dimitri Christakis, Pediatrician and Director for the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development in Seattle Washington makes the following recommendations in regards to media and the young child:
- Early Childhood for children is critical for their development.
Because of this, Dr. Christakis finds that not all screen time is created equally. That educational TV can be beneficial.
- Children need more real time play, less fast paced media
Dr. Christakis points out that a child’s brain develops rapidly during their first years of life. Young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.
According to commonsensemedia.org the media environment and behaviors of children eight and under have changed. Now more than ever they are growing up mobile. This especially becomes important when income level and mobile devices are at play. It seems that higher income families are more likely to show educational content on mobile devices than low-income kids do.
There is even research out there that suggests because Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions.
So, in a nutshell, kids spend a lot of time in front of media, not all media is created equal and some good old-fashioned face-to-face interaction is still valuable.
HOW WE BECAME MEDIA LITE
Now, first let me say that what we have decided for our family might not be for everyone. We have chosen to limit media by simply not having a TV in our household. However, we do have computers, an ipad and mobile devices and our kids definitely see images on these screens. We also consume other non-electronic media like books, magazines and newspapers. Sure, they occasionally might watch a surfing competition with their dad or “how to make a piecrust” on You Tube” with me, but we don’t make media a main part of the their daily diet. That is why I guess you could say our kids our consuming “media lite diet.”
As our children age (our daughter is now seven and we have a son who is four) I imagine we will introduce more and more media as we see fit for them developmentally. But right now, we feel good with their limited consumption.
As a parent who is concerned about media’s impact on our children and our society, here are some tips (inspired by the American Academy of Pediatrics) that can help families become media lite:
- Limit Screen time
When your kids are exposed to media, be mindful of how much time they are spending daily on the screen and what they are viewing. Not all media is created equall. Think about what is best for you and your family. Make a plan for what your minimum and maximum time allowed would be and what content is appropriate. Educational? Entertainment? News?
- Teach Media Literacy
- Make books and other non-electronic forms of media a priority
Make sure to take the time to turn off the TV, put down the mobile device, etc. and just enjoy the art of storytelling through books, magazines, newspapers and even board games with your children. Create zones in your house that are technology free.
- Get kids outside in nature
Nature allows kids to experience all of their senses. So get them outside to play and use their imagination on a daily basis, especially if screen time is a normal part of their daily life.