Family Challenge: Screen-Free Week 2012

Carleen Hanson, MD

Dr. Hanson, Pediatrician, Meriter West Washington

I have recently, and admittedly, somewhat reluctantly, traded in my old free flip phone for a smart phone. My kids were much more excited about this than I was, and had all sorts of ideas for the games I should put on my phone so they could play on it. My son was particularly excited to tell me about a game he had played on my husband’s phone – it involved ninjas killing zombies. He thought it was so cool and was eager to demonstrate to me the moves that he used to kill the zombies. I didn’t think this was so cool, and it actually disturbed me and got me thinking even more than usual about media and what kids are exposed to.

Then, another event happened that got me thinking even more. My children had some friends over to play and when they all came down to the kitchen for a snack, one of the friends saw my phone sitting in the corner and grabbed it, saying “I want to see what games you have on here.” The child proceeded to unlock the phone and started navigating the phone to look for games. I was a little surprised, but it actually is a testament as to how tech savvy kids are nowadays and to how vigilant parents need to be to stay on top of what their kids see.

Screens are everywhere and sometimes it can be hard to avoid them. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children older than two years have no more than two hours of screen time per day. Most parents are surprised to learn that the recommendation is for no screen time for kids less than two years. This includes television, video games, computers, phones, tablets and anything else with a screen – whether it’s marketed for kids or not.

There are lots of reasons to keep track of what, and how much, your kids are watching and playing. Sometimes, things that are promoted as being for kids actually have violent undertones (such as I experienced with my son). There are many cartoons out there that are popular with children, that if you actually watch, are totally inappropriate for younger kids. Also, screen time adds up quickly and often when parents actually try to keep track, they are surprised at how much their kids (and themselves) are watching. One of the biggest problems with screen time is that it takes away from time that kids could be physically active.

Screen-Free Week is coming up from April 30-May 6, 2012, and it’s just that – a week that families are encouraged to go screen free. Limit computer use to as needed for work or school, but no TV, video games, DVD’s, etc. There’s more information available online at http://www.screenfree.org with pledge cards, activity logs and certificates of achievement. Be sure to print out some for mom and dad too!

Dr. Carleen Hanson
Pediatrician
Meriter West Washington

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