Dr. Ernest Levister
Little Phillip has a strict bedtime routine. He has his bath and nap change, clean pajamas and a warm bottle of milk. Then comes the thing that he’s been looking forward to all day — a play on Mummy’s electronic tablet.
At seven months old, he adores the device, and happily taps away on the screen with his chubby fingers, popping bubbles in his favorite video game, or watching YouTube clips of animals, numbers and animated nursery rhymes.
After 15 minutes, his mother Latasha eases the tablet from his grasp and lays Phillip in his bed, where he instantly falls asleep. Latasha 32, offers a prayer of thanks to the maker of the device — for another peaceful evening.
It’s a remarkable scene, and one that will be repeated across the nation as the electronic device ‘babysitting’ phenomenon spreads. A 2016 national study of 500 parents asked about their children’s use of technology. For those whose oldest was 6 or younger, 30% said that their children spend too much time looking at screens. The figure swelled to 50% for parents whose oldest was between 7 and 12. And if the oldest child was between 13 and 17, 62% thought they were on screen too much.
In the case of the older children, the concerns were tempered by the parents’ recognition that social media has become a key way for teens to stay in touch with friends. But what about children who are still years away from adolescence? Many parents believe their children’s lives without screens would be boring, expensive and time consuming.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Start with holiday gifts. If you gave your young children more screens, they will soon be harassing you for more time on them.
Ask yourself: What sorts of activities are your children drawn to? Do they want to create a masterpiece with a whole bottle of glue sticking stars to construction paper? Be reminded that children used to nap until at least kindergarten. Nap time simply morphed into “quiet time,” when kids would go to their rooms for a bit and play by themselves.
The sort of interaction babies and toddlers need is interaction with real people and the real-life environment. That’s how they develop communication skills and learn to co-ordinate and control their whole body, not just jabbing with a finger at a screen.
Parents should not give in because they don’t know what to do. Countless generations survived early childhood without screen time. Today’s tikes can to.