‘You’re going to think I’m crazy.” A mother recently leaned across the table to speak to me at a dinner for families thinking of sending their kids to an overnight camp in the Berkshires.
“You see those pitchers over there with the soup in them?” she asked, increasingly agitated. “Don’t these people know you’re not supposed to put hot liquids in plastic? All of the chemicals seep into the liquid. I can’t send my children here.”
This is the level of crazy we’re dealing with. There are well-educated, well-off parents out there who read something on a mommy blog about the risk of BPA to children (when no scientific study has shown any such thing) and conclude that their 8- and 10-year-olds are at risk from vegetable soup.
You might wonder: What will these same parents do when they read the new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics about screen time? Will they flip out, snatching iPads from their children’s hands? Keep their phones off during dinner time? Throw their video-game controllers in the garbage?
Nope. After years of watching these parents, I predict they’ll do nothing.
Last week, the AAP, after extensive study of the research, concluded that children younger than 18 months should be exposed to no digital media. Because screens — TVs, phones, tablets — interfere with connections between parents and children they can affect brain development. But do you think parents will stop turning on Peppa Pig or the Wiggles when they need some peace and quiet? Ha!
The AAP recommends no more than one hour per day in front of a screen for children aged 2-5. Even the parents who pay twice as much for organic fruit and make their kids wear helmets to ride a scooter in the driveway are never going to limit their children’s screen time to an hour a day. How would they ever make dinner or keep their younger kids quiet in the car?
And wait, it gets worse. The AAP says parents of children through age 5 are supposed to “co-view” media with them. Mom or Dad is actually supposed to be sitting on the couch with Junior watching “Sesame Street” and explaining what’s going on. Never gonna happen.
Even parents who hover over their kids won’t take this seriously. In fact, the only reason helicopter parents haven’t lost their minds yet is that they use tablets or the TV as a way to keep their children happy and quiet — and safe.
For kids older than 6, the AAP recommends families make decisions for themselves. But the doctors say that other kinds of activities must be prioritized.
In addition to school and homework, the AAP says kids should engage in at least one hour of physical activity, as well as social contact and 8-12 hours of sleep. That might leave about two hours for screens.
But a Commonsense Media survey found that tweens (ages 8-12) are spending at least 4?½ hours per day consuming media (not including listening to music and not including any time spent on screens at school or for homework). Teens, meanwhile, are spending about 5?½. There are differences in use across income and education levels but even tweens whose parents have college degrees still spent almost four hours a day on screens.
There are no longitudinal studies of the effects of tablets and smartphones on kids, because they haven’t been around long enough. But here’s what we know so far: When it comes to television, kids learn almost nothing from it. And they certainly learn nothing if adults aren’t watching with them. Violent content in video games and television can result in kids having less empathetic reactions to their peers and is also correlated with more violent behavior.
Time spent on digital media is associated with attentional problems, including higher rates of ADHD. Digital technology, even in the classroom, has shown no consistent improvements in learning. Time spent on social media has a negative effect on girls’ self-images, and it increases narcissistic tendencies for both genders.
There is no doubt that for many kids screen time has cut into the hours that were previously devoted to physical activity, reading for pleasure and even sleep — all of which have fallen precipitously in recent years. But despite the best advice of doctors, not to mention our own sinking sense that screen time is changing our kids for the worse, parents won’t do much to limit kids’ access to these devices. Cutting back isn’t the same as buying more expensive groceries or the right sippy cups or attaching GPS devices to our kids’ backpacks.
At least initially, changing our kids’ screen habits would not only cause them significant discomfort and annoyance, it would also cut into our own ability to be left alone. Obsessing about plastic containers of soup is so much easier.
?Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.