Screen Media: The Modern Day Pacifier of Our Children

I must confess that today I didn’t really homeschool. Okay, the kids did a little bit of work here and there, but I was so exhausted this morning, I plopped the kids in front of my laptop. After coming home from the U.S. Embassy to process Tiana’s citizenship and staying up late last nnight to prepare all her forms and photocopy old passports, I didn’t get much sleep. And it didn’t help that Tiana woke me up with her “Mama” and “Dada” babbling at 6 am. And so when Edric and I got home from the embassy, I said to the kids, “Okay, you can do educational games today.” They were thrilled, of course. I put my eldest, Elijah, in charge of the games for everyone and I fell asleep on the couch for the next two hours.

After waking up, I felt kind of guilty for having pacified my children with screen media. I totally used the internet and my computer to entertain my kids for those two hours so I could enjoy some peace and quiet.  There is nothing wrong with educational games. In fact, when my kids play games on the computer from time to time it is a nice break for me, especially when I need to re-group or keep two kids busy while I work one-on-one with another child. Technology makes homeschooling in this day and age a lot easier. But, I am also wary of how convenient it can become for me to hand my kids my cellphone or the laptop just to keep them preoccupied. It shouldn’t be my default option to put them in front of a screen when I want some me-time or when I need them to sit still and quiet.  The reality is young children should not be exposed to too much screen media not only because it is addicting and sucks them into some sort of vortex (I’ve seen that dulled look on their faces when they are glued to a screen!), but because it is actually harmful for their development.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics has established guidelines that recommend no televisions, video games, or Internet access in children’s bedrooms; no screen media for children under two; and no more than two hours of educational television a day for children older than two.”

“In the first 18 to 24 months of life, the brain is developing rapidly, primarily in response to environmental stimuli,” Strasburger says. “Stimuli that optimize the development of brain architecture include personal interactions, motor skills practice, and problem-solving activities. And the best way to teach these skills is not through screen media.” Read more from “TV Media’s Influence on Child Development”

The Illinois Early Learning Project published this online: “People who study children’s development have often suggested that video games and computer use simply do not match the learning needs of children under 3 years of age. At that age, children are still learning to coordinate all the parts of their bodies—their arms and legs, their eyes, their ears, the organs that affect balance, and so on. They change focus frequently and seem to need to move often. There is no good substitute for physical activity during this period of life. Video games and computer use are not good choices for promoting the essential skills that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers need to master—crawling, walking, talking, picking things up, taking turns, and getting to know other people.”

This article may be talking about younger kids but I feel that the principle applies to my older boys as well.

I am thankful for my husband, Edric. He is really great about keeping the kids busy in a productive way and he doesn’t believe in putting a screen in front of their faces to keep them entertained or behaved. Last Saturday when we celebrated my sister, Carolyn’s birthday at a restaurant, I was tempted to hand the kids my cellphone while we waited for everyone to arrive. I took a look around the restaurant and knew that they wouldn’t last longer than fifteen minutes sitting on their chairs. Praise God for Edric! He said,“Boys, let’s play a game. I will do actions with my hands and face and you have to guess what I am trying to say.” This turned out to be a really fun game for the kids and us. We would act out silly phrases like, “Don’t put this peanut in your nose.” And the kids would actually come very close to guessing things that! They also came up with their own actions and phrases.

Eventually, our family arrived and we had a wonderful lunch. The kids kept themselves entertained by playing pretend games and they did their best not to disturb people in the restaurant. We only had to correct them a few times.

In other words, we don’t need to hand our children an Iphone, an Ipad, a computer or let them watch TV to pacify them and keep them from being bored. They do just fine when challenged to engage in creative and active play and they can find ways to do so in a manner that isn’t disruptive.

I kind of veered away from this belief when I let them play online educational games today because I was so tired, but these moments are pretty rare. For the most part, I keep the kids away from too much screen media. As difficult as it is to have to say no to my persistent three year old son, who asks the most often if he can play computer or watch TV, I am trying to be vigilant. It helps alot that Edric is even more strongly opposed to the convenient pacifying effect that screen media has on children.

But here’s the thing. If you are going to have rules about computer and TV time and limit the use of these media, you need to present alternatives or replacement activities. Don’t just say, “no more TV” and then have no options for them to choose from. Say, “let’s not watch TV tonight but play a board game instead.” Or, “you can’t play computer right now but let’s do something with your art kit.” Or, “No TV this afternoon but we can read books!”

Express your desire to spend time doing something with them that is not screen media related and they will be interested in it because they get to have your time and attention. That’s what I do with my kids when they feel sad about not being able to play computer games or watch TV. I propose something else to do and hype it up by saying that I will be with them. I’m just thankful they are still happy to interact and spend time with me! So this tactic works for now. 😉

4 thoughts on “Screen Media: The Modern Day Pacifier of Our Children

  1. Hey Joy,

    Thanks for the link to clean cut media! 🙂

    Great post! It’s so true, how important it is to not make a children dependent on the screen to entertain themselves. It is so tempting to plug kids into the TV or some form of media entertainment for some peace and quiet. Even mini-vans come with built in entertainment centers. We need to recapture the art of actually playing with them, going out to the park, playing catch and making real-life fun!

  2. hi joy! i agree! it’s very tempting to let screen media entertain the kids because it’s easy and they readily accept it! i rarely use the ipod too for fear that i will go through the consequence later (i.e. kids poor attention span, etc). We also do what Edric does (doing silly but educational and fun games), and of course, it takes a lot of effort and time on the part of the parent =) Thanks for sharing! =)

    1. Yup! I am always fighting the temptation myself because I enjoy researching and using my computer. It’s my pacifier! Hahaha

  3. Such good suggestions! And yes, a lot of parents are giving in to screen media’s temptation to pacify their kids. One time after church we went to lunch and I saw a fellow church-goer’s family at the same restaurant. I think their daughter is about 7 or 8yo and a nanny was feeding her lunch spoon by spoon while her eyes and hands are glued to the Ipad game that she’s playing. This happened the whole way through until lunch is done. Im not judging the parents but it was just such a sad sight. But another experience really perked me up to the horror of being hooked to such. My husband and I tried and tried unsuccessfully to entice his 5yo nephew to go down the garage to check out our scooter (i bet he has never had a chance to get a close encounter with this type of vehicle before), and maybe have a ride around the compound (should have been a very very VERY exciting thing for a boy his age!). But no… He replied “sorry i cant. Im busy and i dont have time for that” not even looking up from playing with his ipad.

    I pray that when our time comes, we will also not give in to this kind of temptation whenever we feel the kids being rowdy. I sure will come back to this article again in about a year’s time! *wink*

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