A whole week Screen Free… Would You? Could You?
This past week it was Screen Free Week in America.
There is much written these days about the recommendations for young children and screen time. The official stance in Australia from the department of Health and Ageing states the following:
“For children 2 to 5 years of age, sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games) should be limited to less than one hour per day“
“Children younger than 2 years of age should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games)”
In the Steiner school system (the educational philosophy we follow in the HealthyKids home), it is strongly encouraged that children (especially in the preschool years) are extremely limited in the use of screens in the home. This has nothing to do with the recommendations of the Australian Government and much more to do with the principles of child development applied in Steiner philosophy.
This follows that children need to develop their physical body completely and gain a strong basis in their physical body before they are ready to begin developing their academic functions. Thus the emphasis on outside play and indoor imaginative play, using items found in nature that stimulate the imagination and allow the child to become wholly present in their physical body.
If you consider most small children, you can see that for most, sitting still is challenging – even when you do allow them to watch a show on TV for a short time, they jump all over the lounges and just cannot sit still.
The other element of the abstinence from screens is the aspect of how they might limit the imaginative process. A child whose head if full of Ninja turtles or Dora the explorer is likely to be strongly influenced in their choices of imaginative play. The magical world that is created in the Steiner inspired preschool environment is geared towards the gentle development of a wide-eyed wonder and a strong active imagination. Crucial elements in the further encouragement of the gross and fine motor skill that go along with play that involves being physical in some way (rather than sitting in front of a screen).
These are vital elements in our children becoming future adults who are chronic disease free and able to self regulate exercise AND screen time.
The key word here is self-regulate.
Children who grow up with the expectation that a screen/technology based form of entertainment come to see that as the norm. Some people might say ‘but my child does play sport – I take them to soccer,ballet,gymnastics,swimming…insert organised sporting activity here’ – that’s great and organsied physical activity definitely plays an important role. But what I am talking about is the everyday normality of simply going outside to play, or choosing a game inside that involves dressing up, making a cubby or having a tea party with their soft animals. All of these activities involve using muscles and hands in was that develop fine and gross motor skills. They also develop a psychology in the child of that being active and running around is normal and fun in an everyday sense – that you don’t need to go to a football field or a swimming pool or a gym in order to be active.
In our home we do own a television, however the children’s watching of the television is highly regulated and they would be lucky to watch more than 2 hours of television across the entire week. The television is not in the main living area and neither is the computer. The children are allowed to use the computer under supervision only and once again it is very limited. My husband and I both own smart phones and I have an Ipad – which the eldest child is allowed to use as a treat only – he plays a game that encourages him to draw letters of the alphabet.
I am by no means anti-technology. This is something that as a parent who believes in Steiner education, I often get questioned on. It often goes a little something like this:
Q: “Isn’t that one of those schools where they don’t use any computers”
A:”Yes – the junior school has no computers and they are quite limited in the senior school”
Q: “In this day and age don’t you think you are setting them up for failure by not allowing them to learn about these new technologies”
A: “Not, not at all, they don’t need a computer in the classroom in order to learn to be interested and aware of the world around them.”
Q: ” Um…Ok then, Well good luck with that then…”
The unspoken context of the discussion is always that the child who is not exposed to these technologies is going to be a poor student and clearly not going to do well in life. However, the point is that they do get exposure to these technologies, in a supervised and regulated manner. Something I noticed very quickly when H boy first started using the Ipad to play the alphabet game was that he could very confidently draw the letters using his fingertip, he had excellent letter recognition and he appeared to know what he was doing when it came to drawing the letter in white space on the screen. However, when I asked him to draw the same letter on a piece of paper with a marker or a crayon – he could not do it. Even when I laid out some dots on the page for him to follow – like in the game- he couldn’t do it. I didn’t really understand this at first so I thought about it for some time. Then it hit me that the reason wasn’t because he didn’t know the letter or what he needed to do to draw it – but that he could not control the marker or crayon with his hand well enough to write the letter. This is basic fine motor skill development – and learning to write letters on screen with your fingertip just doesn’t require the development of the same muscles as it would if he needed to hold a pen and control it across the page.
Imagine my surprise to see on the front page of the Daily Telegraph today an article pointing to the fact that teachers are finding that children are struggling with the capacity to write due to the fact that their fine motor development is impaired as a result of under-use – allegedly due to the increased impact of screens on their physical development. They are having to set classroom tasks that are aimed at developing these muscles such as playing with pegs and plasticine to develop the pincer grip required to hold a pencil as a suggested measure to improve this potentially weakened area of development.
SO it seems the couch potato age may have more of an impact on future generations than anyone may have ever considered. As parents we have some degree of impact on how the next generation will emerge. We worry so much about the rising costs of health care and the rising incidence of chronic illness – prevention is key and through the choices we make and the examples we set now – there is a chance that our children can grow up learning how to be adults who value their health more than their technology. I really hope so.
(Ironically, while I was writing this post MrHKHM came in and told me I should get off the computer and stop ignoring the boys…he is right of course…LOL)
What are your thoughts on screen time and kids?
How do you approach it in your home?