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Go Ask Mom

Handheld Overload: Why kids should put down devices

Posted March 10, 2014

An article on the Huffington Post's Parents' section is making the rounds on my Facebook feed. With something like 250,000 Facebook shares at last check, I'm sure it's probably appeared on yours too.

In the article, Chris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, speaker and author, shares the 10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned for kids ages 12 and under. This isn't entirely new information. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics agree that infants aged 0 to 2 years should have no exposure to technology; kids ages 3 to 5 should be restricted to one hour a day; and kids 6 to 18 should have no more than two hours per day of screen time, Rowan writes. You can read about the American Academy's recommendations here and the Canadian Society's position here.

But Rowan goes further, listing research that has found that too much exposure can have an impact on a child's brain growth, development, weight gain, sleep, mental health and more. 

"Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology," she writes. Read the full post here.

Amen.

I'm no scientist. I can't speak to the studies and research that Rowan highlights in her post.

But I am a mom of two kids, ages 4 and 9, who get very little screen time. I'm here to say that it's possible; it works; and that I wouldn't do it any other way.

What does very little screen time in my house mean? When they were infants, we only watched TV when they were sleeping. We never had the TV on for background noise. We still don't.

They saw very little TV and had almost no access to a computer and, in the case of my older daughter, a smartphone, until they were four or older. When we're on long, multi-state car rides, they play travel board games and word games; draw; read; eat countless snacks; and stare out the window.

When we're at home on your average weekend day, they are playing in the backyard, building forts inside the house, playing games, reading, doing puzzles, creating elaborate stories, reading more books and just hanging out. My husband or I read between 10 and 25 books most days to our four-year-old.

When they say they're bored, I say good. It's an opportunity for them to tap into their own creativity and imagination. Sure, I hear complaints sometimes. That's life.

They have pretty amazing imaginations.

We haven't shut the technology down completely here. When my younger daughter turned four, we started monthly family movie nights. My older daughter watches about two hours of TV on the weekends after her sister has gone to bed. We enjoy watching cooking shows together. My younger daughter usually watches one or two 30-minute "Doc McStuffins" a week.

My younger daughter has a handful of games that she plays on my phone about one hour a week when I'm helping her sister with something or when I'm on a rare work phone call. My older daughter spends about an hour or less a week playing educational games online, including a game that her teachers use to help kids with social studies and science vocabulary.

They sometimes watch TV or play games when they are at friends houses. That's fine with me.

When a friend came over one day, he asked where our Wii was.

"What's a Wii?" my four-year-old asked.

As they get older, our rules will loosen up a bit. I'm sure that at some point when they are much older, they'll both have phones. But that's years from now (and I'll be looking to Brian, our social media dad, for guidance when I get there).

Am I setting my kids back because they don't have the latest gadgets? Will they be able to survive in this world so focused on all things technology? 

Please. 

Do you remember back when you were a kid? I do. I remember my high school "technology" class where we'd key in a line of very simple code on those giant green screens. As I sit with my smartphone next to me and writing on my laptop, I am here to say that that class did nothing to advance my computer skills today. 

This is a fast-paced, evolving field. Who knows what gadgets will look like years from now. 

This also is an evolving field of research. Who really knows what technology's true impact is on our kids. Is reading for hours on an ereader the same as watching hours of cartoons? I don't know.

What I do know is that I want my kids going out into the world with more than just hours and hours of screen time under their belts. I want them to get muddy. I want them to daydream. I want them to be bored. And then I want to watch them create the most amazing things.

Who knows? Maybe they'll be just like their dad. He's a software developer.

Sarah is the mom of two and editor of Go Ask Mom.

10 Comments

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  • Susan West Mar 14, 2014
    user avatar

    After my stepfather died I found myself relying on TV more and more to help "parent" our 3 year old son during the day when I needed a moment to myself dealing with the things that come with mourning. It started to affect his behavior. We are now one week into a month long TV ban and don't have hand held devices, and I have to say I simply LOVE it!

  • Sarah Hall Mar 12, 2014
    user avatar

    Thank you, @GreenFeet!

    Sarah

  • uBnice Mar 11, 2014

    Too much of anything is not good for you, including sleep and play.

    We are experiencing unchartered territories with the digital age and there will be growing pains. My son has a smart phone with full internet access. I monitor his use to make sure nothing untowards is happening but lets be honest, he has access that I cannot monitor like the incognito tab in browsers.

    Humans will adapt to the digital age. We will become the Greys.:-)

  • A person Mar 11, 2014

    Actually it is why parents should limit the time kids get to spend on these electronic baby-setters. Who is the adult?? It is a long over-looked question, but the kids are not the adult, the parents are supposed to be. They are supposed to make those decisions, not the children, but allot of adults are more children today than the children are

  • Forthe Newssite Mar 11, 2014
    user avatar

    To add to what Sunshine said, not only is the word 'no' not taught neither is the concept of consequences. I think kids would be less obese for sure if they were made to play, really play, not a game on a tablet. among other things. electronics are becoming the baby sitters of today and that is a really bad thing.

  • greenfeet Mar 11, 2014

    Thank you Sarah! I enjoyed your article.

  • Pseudonym Mar 10, 2014

    FTA: "...10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned for kids ages 12 and under."

    Why is the default position for any group (Liberals and Conservatives) to ban any behavior or product that they view is dangerous? Leave the parenting to parents.

    Gosh, freedom!! What a concept!!

  • sunshine1040 Mar 10, 2014

    As little children we were allowed to play in our back yard while mom actually cooked a meal or did some household chores. As we grew older we were given chores to do then we played in the neighborhood and Mom cooked dinner and relaxed for a few minutes or even visited with other mothers in neighborhood. But now it is not safe for children to play out of Moms sight even in the house they might get into something harmful since the word no should not be taught to a tot any more.

  • bgrmom Mar 10, 2014

    I am glad to see that we are not the only family that is strict about use of tablets, etc. We only allow computer/device time on weekends and only if it is earned (unless there is research to do for school). We also strictly limit tv time. I told my 9-year old son to stay outside this past weekend! No TV! No electronics! He rode his bike, helped his dad build some things, played on his swing and and had lots of fun. Yes, he had fun without being attached to an electronic device :-)

  • busyb97 Mar 10, 2014

    I wonder what schools will say to that information from AAP...now that so many of them are requiring families to get the tablets for the kids to use in school for hours.