My daughter left for summer camp yesterday. She will spend the next four weeks water skiing, swimming, doing arts and crafts, taking hikes and sitting by campfires. She will return each night to a small cabin, shared with several other girls. There will be electricity but no air conditioning. She will walk a short distance to the bathhouse to shower. We will communicate through “snail mail” letters. There won’t be a screen in sight.
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that children spend an average of seven hours a day on screens. This includes TV, computers, phones and other electronic devices. Pediatricians recommend no screen time for children under age two and no more than two hours a day for older children. Despite these recommendations, nearly 40 percent of children under age two and 72 percent of children under age eight have used mobile devices. The effects of too much screen time are just now being realized. These consequences range from difficulty interpreting facial expressions, to obesity, short attention spans, poor sleep patterns and behavior problems.
There is no question that the world around us has changed. Our children will interact daily with technology in ways that we can only imagine. The problem is that the human mind has not changed. The human brain grows significantly during the first three years of life. We often compare the mind to a sponge that soaks up experiences. The problem is that the mind develops through real life experiences not ones visualized on a screen. A child needs to engage all of his or her senses for the most successful learning encounters. Complete sensory engagement is impossible from a screen.
Arguably, we could all benefit from engaging in experiences with all our senses. In fact, studies show that people remember events better when they are not taking pictures. Even President Obama has weighed in, asking people to shake his hand before taking a photograph.
Experts recommend that parents lead by example. Establish screen free zones and screen free times at home. Turn off the TV and put the phone away during dinner. For that matter, insure that your family eats dinner together. Make an effort to have face to face conversations. Go outside. Maybe we all could benefit by going to camp.
Lisa Ryan, MD, is a member of BJC Medical Group. She is a pediatrician at Way to Grow Pediatrics, which is located at 20 Progress Point Pkwy, Suite 108, O'Fallon, MO and can be reached by calling 636-344-2400. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Ryan today!