How Much Screen-Time Is Ok for Your Toddler?
How much screen-time is healthy? Educator and mum to 2-year old son Sam, Nicole Bolton, explains how she tackles the topic of digital in her home
6 min read
There is a great deal of controversy surrounding appropriate levels of screen time for young ones. Research is full of opinions about the hours each specific age group of kids should have and recent New Zealand Health Survey Studies saying no screen time for all under-twos is the best of all. So what is right for you?
Balance is key when it comes to screen-time for your toddler
We all understand the plight of families when you have a small person who is either tugging on your pants or trying to pry open the oven door while you prepare an evening meal, or has come home from kindergarten and simply wants to have a rest on the couch in front of a cute cartoon.
Parents feel the burden of guilt often, wishing they had the time and energy to devote to making games and activities to enrich their little one’s lives. The reality is however that some screen time for over-twos can be a healthy inclusion into children’s lives to help them to grow into creative, forward-thinking, content children and allow them to reach their full potential in a growing digital environment.
Digital technology is here to stay, let’s embrace it
Digital technology is here to stay, and we need to embrace this new world and teach our kids to handle their devices in a responsible way. School children and even childcare centres are being introduced to digital tech at a very early age, learning about robotics, 3d printing and even writing code.
Kindercare, one of New Zealand’s well known child care centres, has an amazing program set up called Cherry.bytes. where the children are taught in an innovative and engaging way how technology opens up a world of discovery for them. Maree Reardon, who supervises the program, talks about how technology opens up an amazing world of discovery, interactions and fascinating conversation between adults and children as they ‘wonder why’.
Kids will copy their parents so check your digital habits
Parents are using social media more and more as it becomes a specific business platform and collaboration tool, as well as entertainment and furthering education. Our children see the importance of this communication and early on are aware of our immersion in a tech savvy world.
Children absorb this environment, they play ‘answering the phone’ and know how to swipe a screen to get to a new picture in our gallery. We know that we model for them the diverse nature of the world around us and the many facets of media. So it is our role to create a balance of outside and inside play, family time and by perhaps allowing some relevant screen time. Children can definitely benefit from learning at a young age how to use these platforms to satisfy their curiosity in a safe way.
In our family, we don’t choose to ‘schedule’ screen time for Sam, as I don’t want to promote that there is a specific time or day or week when TV or games are supposed to happen, nor do I want them to think they can’t choose to play instead. The choices evolve organically, with a close eye kept on when this time occurs, for how long, and what type the media is.
Help your child explore the digital world
This is where a small amount of preparation can be crucial depending on the age of your child. There are tried and true games and outlets that you can use with your children, such as National Geographic Kids for great animal videos, online ‘felt board’ and drawing pads, or jigsaw puzzle games.
You could also Skype or Facetime family, play online quizzes or perhaps audiobooks for older children. There are also several fantastic online parenting tools/websites to help you set up devices to monitor, block and help you to control content.
Once you have created a safe environment for your child, you can allow them to have an online presence that helps them interact in a thoughtful and worthwhile way. The lesson is to work on the activity and exploration itself – not the technology.
A few tips on ‘digital nutrition’
Many parents worry about the adverse effect of TV and find it hard to fight battles. We can all cave in to toddlers’ demands, so don’t feel that you are alone and that there is no hope. We have all been there at some point.
For me it was 5am last week when Sam was wide awake and I was exhausted – Paw Patrol to the rescue! Maree from Kindercare suggests giving a warning that there is only a few minutes to go, then count down every so often, then follow through with taking away the device so they understand routine.
Take a deep breath and work to slowly disengage the interest by breaking the activity into mini chunks of 10-15 minutes or so by distracting them with an activity that might act as a reward for pausing a program. They might then, begin to have the routine in place that stopping the TV has a natural reward afterwards that is stimulating and interesting. In our house, that is stirring in a bowl of cake mix, helping chop a few veggies or kicking a ball around.
Figure out what is best for your family
We acknowledge that this is not for everyone, so it is vital that you figure out what is best for your family. Remember that there is no substitute for love, cuddles, play and adventure – keep those as your first priority. Hopefully, you and your child can now take the time to engage together for some education and play online together.