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Parenting In A Digital World

Each generation experiences a unique hurdle to parenting that is largely based on the social, cultural, and technological advancements of their time. And with how things are shaping up, it appears that this generation's hurdle will be how to effectively and safely manage screen time for their children. In fact, this is such a hot topic right now, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued formal recommendations regarding the amount of screen time your child should be exposed to based on their age- and some of these recommendations may surprise you!

  1. For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.

  2. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.

  3. For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

  4. For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.

  5. Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

(retrieved from

While the guidelines regarding duration of screen time may seem incredibly restrictive to some parents, it’s worth taking a closer look from the perspective of child development ....

Rapid development occurs in the first 5 years of your child's life. During infancy and toddlerhood, children are learning the foundational motor, language, cognitive, and social-emotional skills that are necessary for mobility, self-care, social interaction, and self-regulation. Additional developmental milestones begin to emerge and previously learned foundational skills are mastered and refined between the ages of 2 and 5-allowing your child to become more coordinated and efficient in their play as well as more independent in caring for themselves. It is also during this time that your child is beginning to learn how to identify and appropriately express a variety of emotions as well as how to effectively communicate, negotiate, and compromise with adults and peers. The importance of mastering these skills is apparent, but what might not be as apparent to some is that ALL of these skills are practiced, learned, and mastered through your child's active engagement with their environment and with those around them. Digitial screens inherently put children into a passive and motorically sedentary state, limiting their active exploration and in turn reducing natural opportunities for learning and mastering these critical skills. With an understanding that typical development at this age relies immensely on active engagement with other's and exploration of one's environment, which cannot occur when starring into a digital screen, it isn't hard to whole heartedly agree with the AAP's recommendations.

Another recommendation from the AAP that deserves a closer look is the idea of setting up media-free times and areas. While your first instinct may be to put on a movie or hand your child an Ipad while running errands around town, I would encourage you to first take a moment to think about how you can facilitate language, social interaction, and relationship building during what may seem like menial or boring tasks. Children can learn so much by simply looking out to the world around them during a car ride or by helping you scratch off your grocery list while shopping. These moments help your child learn how to describe the world and their experiences, how to effectively navigate new and familiar environments, and it also allows you the opportunity set the foundation for consistently communicating with your child about their day or feelings. In addition to ensuring your child is actively engaged in natural learning opportunities, limiting screen time and designating media free zones helps your child learn key self-regulation skills. The digital world can often be one of instant gratification, but rarely in life can you hit a pause, fast forward, or exit button to escape challenging or "boring" tasks. Teaching our children how to sit and wait no matter how bored or how badly they want to do something else, without pacifying them with a screen, is a necessary (albeit challenging) parenting responsibility.

Since screen time and internet access is likely going to be a part of your child's life, it is also important to be aware of whether or not you are being a good “digital role model" for your children. Remember that children often mirror adults, so it is important to put your phone away and model appropriate engagement and attention when talking with your child or with others in your life. Show children through your own actions when it is and when it is not appropriate to be looking at a screen. Consider reading a book or chatting with those around you while in waiting rooms, shutting off the TV during dinner time, and docking your phone in a specific spot while at home to help set a clear example of separating the digital world from the "real" world.

While it is incredibly important that we recognize and understand that screen time, if used in excess, can limit your child's exposure and engagement in natural learning opportunities, it is equally important that we recognize the positive effects that technology, if used appropriately, can have in supplementing your child’s learning and enhancing your child's motivation. Many Ipad applications can be incredibly motivating and useful in teaching your child how to form their letters, identify their shapes, or sound out words.

Some of our favorite Apps include:

  • Letter School

  • Dexteria

  • Dexteria Jr.

  • Doodle Buddy

  • Visual Attention

  • P.O.V

  • Letter Reflex

However, its important that when choosing to use digital media, you remember to spend time co-viewing with your child in order to facilitate appropriate language versus simple labeling. This helps to ensure your child really understands the true function and meaning of the letters, sounds, and words they are learning. You can facilitate appropriate language and higher level cognitive skills by describing to your child what you are watching, asking your child questions about what is happening, and challenging your child to think about what might happen next. You can also relate personal experiences to what your child is watching- helping your child integrate what they are learning into their own life.

As parents, we shape our children into the adults they will become through careful decision making and often times personal sacrifices. Here at Abilities, we recognize that decisions about how and when to use digital media and technology are unique for each family and based largely on their individual circumstances and needs- and we hope that we have highlighted some important things to consider when making these kinds of decisions for your family!

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