On Screen Time

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Beginning this Monday, May 1st, Villa di Maria will participate in our annual “Screen-Free Week,” during which we ask our parents to spend the week engaging their children in activities that do not require a TV, smart phone, computer, iPad, or other electronic device. It’s a time to get outside, or go to the library or museum, to go for a bike ride, or explore a new playground while leaving the screens behind. Screen-free week is the perfect excuse to reset the screen time rules in your household if you feel they have gotten out of hand – just blame it on us! Below, why it’s important to rethink screen time, and several suggestions for how to spend your screen-free week! 

It’s such a sensitive subject these days: how much screen time should our children be exposed to? It turns out, the age of your child is an important factor in making this decision, but experts agree that too much screen time has a detrimental affect on a child’s brain – even the developing brain that continues to change rapidly until the mid-twenties.

Research has shown that too much screen time actually damages the developing brain, including gray matter atrophy (a shrinkage or loss of tissue volume in areas of the frontal lobe, which governs executive function), compromised white matter integrity, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive functioning, and impaired dopamine function. It turns out, we parents really should be setting limits for our children when it comes to screen time.

“The first five years have so much to do with how the next eighty turn out” – Bill Gates

It is an interesting, well-known fact that Steve Jobs, Apple chief executive and creator of so many of the devices we now use on an hourly basis, strictly limited screen time with his own children. After first launching the iPad, Jobs was asked whether his children liked the new device. Jobs replied: “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, limited screen time for his children to 45 minutes a day, stating that his daughter had already expressed a strong draw to the technology:

“She became very avid and discovered a lot of computer games, including one that runs on the Xbox 360 called Viva Pinata, where you take care of your garden,” he told a business audience in Ottawa. She could spend two or three hours a day on this Viva Pinata, because it’s kind of engaging and fun.”

Gates and Jobs are not alone; “Especially in Silicon Valley, there is actually a trend of tech execs and engineers who shield their kids from technology. They even send their kids to non-tech schools like the Waldorf School in Los Altos, where computers aren’t found anywhere because they only focus on hands-on learning,” states one parenting piece.

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photo credit: Melinda Smith

Research supports that children under the age of 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted to screen time, so limiting time spent on devices is most important within this age group. It is particularly important to note that during a young child’s most sensitive periods of brain development, hours spent looking at a screen equal hours lost in building the important neural connections gained when children interact with the world through playing, reading, listening to or playing music, learning to navigate the physical world with their bodies, talking to adults and other children, building relationships, observing nature, and just generally exploring the world around them.

Setting limits around screen time can be easy, as long as parents are consistent. Adults often grossly underestimate the amount of time they themselves are on their electronic devices, and it’s just as easy to lose track with children (especially when they are quiet!). Setting a specific time of day or even a couple of designated days for screen time can help monitor children’s screen use.

Here is a list of activities you can engage in with your child during screen-free week here in St. Louis:

Join us next week as we celebrate springtime in St. Louis and go screen-free! You may be surprised by how little you actually miss those screens!