Children’s literature abounds with rhyme. Rhyme is fun. Rhyme is easy to remember. Rhyme is singable. And for writers, rhyme rides to the rescue when creativity fails (alliteration, too).
Apologies to poets in the audience. Here’s a great, new, unplugged collection as an olive branch:
Anyway. We pediatricians do our best to convey helpful information to families to help children stay healthy and prevent problems before they start. The doctorly term is “anticipatory guidance.” We are trained to be expert at it, despite increasing pressure to see more patients, faster, and with vast ground to cover: feeding, sleep, injury prevention, school readiness, vaccines, colic… Thus, we tend to pick a few topics and move on. Our list also narrows via our tendency to become cynical, feeling that parents are more likely to listen to celebrities than us, sapping our anticipatory energy.
This perceived futility explains a recent survey showing that only 15% of parents of children under 2 had ever talked to their pediatrician about electronic media use. This is an alarming statistic given that a child’s relationship with media increasingly defines how they live and the risks they face; a wailing, anticipatory siren growing louder every day. On the bright side, an encouraging counter-statistic is that the majority of parents wish they knew more.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has had guidelines in place for e-media use since 1999. As opposed to a good deal of what we say (and most of what Dr. Phil says and all of what Dr. Titzer of Your Baby Can Read! says) these are backed by solid evidence. For Star Wars fans, the AAP is the Jedi Council of pediatricians. For Harry Potter fans, they are Dumbledore. We should listen to them.
Why should we care what the curmudgeonly AAP says about e-media? Because pediatricians are prevention people. We – and our elders – offer advice on media use during well checks to prevent families from having to come back later for sick visits, consulting one of our colleagues (or worse, grownup doctors) for difficult things like sleep problems, language delay, obesity, trouble in school and with peers, depression, difficulty paying attention or interacting with people in the real world, and so on. For example, adhering to guideline #3 – keeping video screens out of a child’s bedroom – is one of the most effective interventions to reduce a child’s risk of obesity and sleep dysfunction, sending forth all manner of happy psychological and physiological ripples.
What are these guidelines, you ask? Of course, I could list them. But since this is a blog promising a modicum of creativity, I offer this nifty, singable (analog), all-caps rhyme:
- Strongly discourage ANY screen time for children under two years old (as evidenced by the tagline for this blog, I have boldly amped this to 3, when most children start preschool).
- No child should have a TV or equivalent in his or her bedroom. Instead, TVs, video game systems, and Internet-linked computers should be in public areas of the home.
- As in, “co-view.”
- Children over 2 should limit viewing to 1-2 hours of quality educational programming, ideally with an adult caregiver. Yes, this means mom & dad watching Sesame Street.
- Recall that almost all benefits of “educational” programming for kids over 2 is via interaction with a grownup, through such things as questions and conversation. As cute as they are, Elmo and Thomas don’t deserve professor rank, nor tenure.
- Co-viewing reduces the temptation of using e-media as an electronic babysitter. Real babysitters are fine, especially ones that read and play games.
- Monitor shows that children are watching, and discuss content. The best content filter imaginable: making parents sit through an entire Preschool Prep DVD, Wiggles marathon, et cetera.
A key pediatric maxim is: children are not small grownups. Despite universal access, different types of programming are suitable for different ages and developmental stages. Thus, programming should be advanced gradually.
- Children under 2 don’t get e-media at all and have no use for it.
- Older preschoolers might be able to learn a few things, best with a human by their side.
- Children under 8 have a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality (kind of like grownups), and are sensitive to monsters and scary things.
- Pre-tweens are OK with monsters but sensitive to real-world threats like kidnapping and tornadoes, and thus not so ready for reality TV.
- Teens and tweens are sensitive to body image and peer pressure, ergo no Kardashians or Jersey Shore (which should be discouraged broadly, really), unless you like your children acting like them.
- Use controversial topics and programming as a means to discuss timely, important topics, such as violence and sexuality (if they are old enough to watch it, that is).
- Transcend e-media! Roam beyond the confines of its power cord! There is MUCH more to life than what is prescribed by Apple, PBS, and Disney.
- Focus on opportunity, not restriction. Provide alternate, healthy, awesome alternatives such as reading, unstructured play, learning an instrument or sport, art projects, or spending time with friends and family. With some spirited unplugging, it’s amazing how many hours a day has to offer.
- Advocate. Support efforts to promote media education in schools, even super-wired ones.
- Pediatricians and parents should serve as appropriate role models by limiting their own media use and promoting healthy alternatives.
SHOW: the end. I hope that this proves a helpful, happy rhyme, leading to countless magical, unplugged experiences. Before I click “post,” though, I must pay a tribute to one of the finest stewards of imagination the world has ever known, an author/illustrator who inspired me into all manner of mischief and wild rumpus as a child, even if I never owned a wolf suit. Maurice Sendak, you will be missed.
My youngest, by coincidence, was just in a Sendak-inspired play at her school: “Where The Wild Animals Are.” It had a wild rumpus and everything. Note the hand-crafted cardboard “BOWT.” Send your own recollections!