Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated two of its policies regarding screen time for young children and for older children and teens. The doctors relaxed their guidelines for toddlers, making it not in alignment with brain science.
Amending their previous caveat of no screen technology before the age of 2, they now recommend:
“For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, advise that they choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided.”
I believe young parents caught in the tech tsunami need clearer and more direct guidance. For instance, while it is certainly preferable when parents interact with their children while enjoying a high quality app or an educational program rather than youngsters using media on their own, it is not true that “toddlers learn best” that way. In the same policy statement, the doctors acknowledge:
“Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills. Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attentional skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience.”
If we truly understand the brain science and want to give toddlers the best start in life, we have to state firmly and clearly: “Dear American pediatricians, you got it wrong. Please re-instate your previous recommendation, at the very least.”
The Canadian Pediatric Society currently recommends no screen time (eg, TV, computer, electronic games) for youngsters under age 2. And French pediatricians concerned with obesity and the life-style trajectory that is set in the early years recommends no screens under the age of 3. The French also have stricter recommendations for older children than we Americans do:
- No video games before age 6
- No social Internet before age 9
- No social media before age 12
The French doctors’ stair step guidelines make so much sense because they are in alignment with brain science.
These pediatricians recognize that children’s brains are in a process of development and help parents make better parenting decisions as a result.
From my research of the last 20 years, I believe that keeping kids away from video games as long as possible—ideally not until age 10 or 12—helps greatly in preventing video game and Internet addiction. “You can’t fool Mother Nature.” Developing human brains were designed to interact with the 3-D world. When the machines of a 2-D world replace our natural, at-home environment, our children and teens become de-humanized. Make no mistake about that. This pattern and process has inevitable outcomes—dire, tragic outcomes.
I do wish it were otherwise. But it isn’t. And now, the sad truth is: Troubles for families in our digital world only exacerbate when experts don’t do their jobs.
Consider the AAP’s opening statement in their new screen policy for young children:
“Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies, which they are adopting at increasing rates.”
This statement has two major problems with it:
- While it is very true that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies—it is not true (and very misleading to say so) that “they are adopting these at increasing rates.” The reality is that their parents are allowing them access to the devices at increasing rates. Youngsters cannot adopt these. Adults adopt the new technologies for them.
This is an irresponsible statement—constructed, it seems to me, to avoid the truth and even to obfuscate. If the block you lived on had 10 liquor stores on it, you wouldn’t think: Oh I have to buy my toddler some whisky and get him to start drinking since he will be growing up surrounded by liquor stores. No, you would do everything in your power to prevent untimely exposure to liquor, teach about healthy choices as he grows, and only offer him a shot of whisky when his brain/mind body was ready to deal with it—as an adult. And if he had a genetic propensity to alcoholism, you might move your place of residence to healthier environs or do everything in your power to prevent him from taking one drop.
- The vast majority of young parents who are adopting the new technologies for their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers do not understand at all what havoc they are bringing to their youngsters’ developing brains. There are very few courageous souls who are “out there” telling it like it is. Dr. Victoria Dunkley is one of those courageous souls. As an integrative psychiatrist who noticed the negative effects of screen technologies on children and youth she worked with over a fifteen-year period, she has articulated the research, effects, and what to do about it in her outstanding book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. (2015)
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Dr. Dunckley explains in detail what happens to children’s and teens’ brains and their sensory nervous systems with over-use of screens. She calls this ESS—Electronic Screen Syndrome and shows parents exactly what to do about it. If you are a parent of a child who is “out of sorts” in any way, I highly recommend you read her book and decide for yourself what actions to take.
With experts like Dr. Dunckley so rare, it’s getting to the point that we can no longer rely on experts to guide us. In my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, I lay out 6 major challenges—unprecedented challenges—moms and dads encounter because the industry-generated culture has replaced the culture of people and honored traditions and ancestral values. This culture is a counterfeit one. It is a culture made up of mega-conglomerates who influence attitudes and behaviors on a massive scale, using manipulative measures to do so. I find it quite ironic that in an information age with all the information technology at our disposal, we cannot manage to grow children in alignment with what we know works for their most optimal development. Obesity, attention problems, hyper-activity, sensory integration problems, poor self-esteem, bullying, and childhood depression haunt us at every turn. Yet, the one thing parents can do—reduce screen time—to reduce—or even eliminate those problems entirely—is not made clear to parents.
I invite you to become the brains for your child’s developing brain. It’s not rocket science to understand the brain research and the reasons why young brains need to be protected from screen technologies. I encourage you to read Dr. Dunckley’s book and inform yourself. You must be the CEO of your child’s brain since their brains aren’t fully mature until about age 25. So until then, the decisions they make come from a still-developing brain. Think about that and then make the fundamental choice to become the brains for your children. With that fundamental choice in place your daily, tough decisions will be easier to make.
Then, make a second fundamental choice: To engage your backbone. Stay convicted. Your knowledge will only become your power if you have the courage to align your parenting with brain-compatible practices—no matter what.
Please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I have resources and practical tips I can send you that have worked for thousands of parents. You don’t have to be alone in all this.
I do believe we can create the world we want for our children if we use our brains and our backbone in the best interests of our children. What about you? What do you believe?
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.