Last week we were at a restaurant full of kids for brunch, and our waitress pointed out that our son was the only child in the restaurant who was not staring at a smart phone or iPad. We looked around, and sure enough she was right. There were at least eight kids in the restaurant ranging in age from 9 months to 9 years, and they were all staring at screens. Our son was busy ignoring our adult conversation. He was playing with a tiny toy Meerkat, and pretending that it was peeing all over the food. It was pretty funny, and a few minutes later we found ourselves taking video of our son playing at the table, and showing him the video– and then there were zero kids in there not staring at a screen.
Despite warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics and others, parents seem to find it pretty hard to eliminate screen time before age 2, and limit it to 2 hours after that. The risks of not limiting screen time include:
Sleep problems, and
One other problem is that the Department of Energy has reported that energy use, and carbon pollution, from televisions, and related gadgets is increasing dramatically.
TVs are getting bigger and bigger, and using more energy. Gadgets like DVRs that stay on all the time are energy hogs, and DOE reports their use is widespread. Even though the first DVR shipped quite recently, in 1999, ten years later, 43 percent of U.S. households have a DVR player. And more and more families have multiple other gadgets plugged in to the TV as well. You can reduce the energy consumption of these gadgets by using smart power strips that turn off other appliances when you turn off the TV, but that does nothing to save energy while these gadgets are on, and it certainly does nothing to prevent an obese, sleepless child with behavioral and academic problems!
Two ideas for avoiding screen time
I’m no expert at this, but we have managed to avoid having our son watch any TV at home. We do this by keeping the television unplugged and put away. That way we have a TV if we really want to watch something (like last night’s Presidential debates, or the Olympics). We always wait until our son goes to sleep before we turn on the TV, if we are going to use it. He turns two soon, and after that we’ll consider an hour of Big Bird every once in a while.
Phones and computers are a little harder for us. We often use those to show our son photos and video of family members. We also use those devices all the time ourselves, so it’s harder to say no to our son. The best rule I’ve come up with is to enforce as much book reading as screen time. That way if we spend 10 minutes looking at pictures of geckos on my iPad (a favorite activity of my son’s), I immediately make sure we spend at least 10 minutes reading a book that is not on the screen.
Any other tips for avoiding screen time?
I’m guessing the best trick is to set a good example yourself, so I better get off of this computer now!
About Keya Chatterjee
Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert, and Director for International Climate Policy at World Wildlife Fund. Her work focuses on the environmental crisis facing the planet, and what policies and measures should be taken to ameliorate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Keya’s commentary on climate change policy and sustainability issues has been quoted in dozens of media outlets including USA Today, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. Keya resides in Washington, DC with her husband Andrew and her son Siddharth. She enjoys practicing yoga, biking, and spending time with her friends and family. She is working on a book about how to have a baby without raising your carbon footprint to be published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. Keep up with Keya's writing on the nexus of climate change activism and motherhood at www.keyachatterjee.com.