Long gone are the days when the close-knit family would gleefully gather around the radio together to tune into an evening drama. Contemporary kids, unlike their almost media-free predecessors, spend a large portion of their time in front of screens such as TV or the computer. That said, electronic media -- whether it's a tablet, cell phone, TV, laptop or home PC -- can quickly take control over otherwise tech-free family time.
How much is too much when it comes to TV and tech time? According to the developmental experts at the University of Michigan Health System, today's kids already spend more than enough time in front of a screen. Young children between two and five-years-old spend roughly 32 hours each week watching television and videos, and grade schoolers between 6 and 11 spend an average of 28 hours each week engaged in screen time. Considering the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) screen-time guidelines that state kids over two shouldn't watch more than one or two hours of TV per day, and toddlers under two should watch no television, it seems as if electronics use and screen-watching activities are growing when it comes to trading in family time for technology.
The AAP, on their Healthy Children website, notes that when kids are in front of a screen -- whether it's the TV or a computer -- they are missing out on a variety of activities that encourage intellectual, emotional and even physical growth. When your child sits in front of the TV, staring blankly at the screen, he is excluding the possibility of engaging in fun-filled family activities such as going to the museum, taking a trip to the local park or simply playing a backyard game of ball. As a largely passive and solitary activity, electronics use may affect the way that your family plans and tries new activities. Cutting back on your little one's tube time or computer usage may mean that the family can get together and go out or stay in and actually interact, together.
When your child is watching TV, surfing the web or playing a game on her iPad, she isn't engaging with you. While you shouldn't expect your child to spend 100 percent of her time devoted to communicating with you, constant electronics use can eat into family time. For example, the child development experts at the University of Michigan Health System note that two-thirds of U.S. families keep the TV on, even if it is only in the background, during mealtimes. Distractions such as this prevent families from engaging with each other and talking about their day or having other key conversations.
Unlike your youth, when the TV was a family room fixture, and computers were something that only the most tech-savvy used, today's kids and teens are constantly connected via smart phones, tablets, laptops and other mobile types of devices. For example, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, one and four teens report using cell phones as the primary means for accessing the Internet. With 78 percent of teens having a cell phone, 23 percent owning a tablet and 95 percent having regular Internet use, even family times are often quickly interrupted by the chime of a text, buzz of an email and bing of a social media message. Keep in mind that the constant media connection isn't only true of kids and teens. Parents' Internet, email and smart phone use can also interrupt family times together.