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There’s been a revolution in entertainment among younger children. It used to be that when our little people came home from kindergarten or elementary school, the house erupted into a flutter of activity. If there were ways to play quietly, they remained undiscovered until the teenage years. Forts, battlegrounds, dance halls and pirate ships; our houses were the stage for more pretend play than anyone could reckon up.
Today’s children still love imaginative play, but they like to take it to a new plane: the virtual one. Even three and four year olds can enjoy hours spent with a computer game, a tablet, or even mommy or daddy’s phone. Elementary school children are often completely engrossed in their own virtual worlds; they take care of pets, build cities, or wage wars on smartphone apps and computer games.
The Downlow: Good, Bad, or Somewhere in Between
Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or neutral? In terms of the peacefulness of our homes and the condition of our furniture, it certainly is a good thing. Children are never quieter than when they’re having screentime, and a house where the little people watch cartoons from the time when they come in from school till bedtime can be very nearly as tidy as a house lived in by only adults.
What about when we look at the children themselves? Here the outlook suddenly becomes less positive. Ten years ago parents were unanimously proud about giving their children access to computers and other electronic devices. They felt that an early fluency with these things meant their children would have an edge on competition in an increasingly electronics-based world.
Today, though, we realize that children pick up on electronic devices so quickly there is really no gain in introducing early. What’s worse, early exposure to ‘too much screentime’ is being found to have all sorts of ill effects, from lowering attention spans and concentration to limiting athletic abilities to decreasing a child’s appetite control. Simply put, a child who spends too much time interacting with devices loses the ability to interact in and cope with real life.
The Place of Screentime in a Home With Children
The current recommendations for screentime for children are:
• For under 2: None at all
• For toddlers 2 to 5: No more than one hour a day, split up into sessions of not more than 20 minutes each
• For 5 up to 15: No more than two hours
Helping Your Child Find Alternatives to Screentime
If your child is spending too much time with his or her devices, you’ll want to work on positive ways to wean them away without making draconian rules—at least at first. Provide plenty of imaginative toys for your child to play with — toy rental is one budget-friendly way of doing this — and take time out to play with your child as he’s learning how to make his own imaginative games rather than rely on the pre-canned ones. And give your child freedom: freedom to make messes, freedom to make noise, freedom to change your house from a silent, stately place to one with dirt and disorganization and blocks scattered around the floor.
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