Whitefield Academy Blog
Screen Time and Kindergartners: What’s Too Much?
This post originally ran in 2017, but it is even more applicable now that so many schools have moved to virtual schooling.
Screens are everywhere. Screens in our living rooms, our workspaces, our family rooms and many times in our kitchens too. Screens in our mini-vans and SUVs. Screens in our toys and games. Screens on our wrists and in our hands. It sometimes seems an impossible task to find a balance for our children in our digitally saturated world.
Many parents realize that media can have a negative effect on their children, but how much is too much? And how young is too young? In October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a revised set of media consumption guidelines for children. For kids ages two to five they recommend no more than one hour per day of “high-quality” programs. And while these numbers may sound too conservative to some ears, it could be argued that seven hours of media consumption per week for the average kindergartner could be scaled back further still. Consider this scenario: a five-year-old child wakes up around 7 a.m. and is at school by 8 a.m. A full-day kindergartner would stay at school until 3 p.m. After the obligatory after-school snack, a bit of homework, dinner, bath, reading, and bed by 8:00 or 8:30 p.m., not much time remains. This says nothing of evening church activities and other extracurriculars like music lessons or sports. If a whole hour of media time is added into this mix, when does a child get to play?
What We Lose to Screens
In Richard Louv’s bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, he argues that today’s child spends too much time indoors watching television instead of playing outside in the mud, catching frogs, fishing, climbing trees, and other activities kids used to do. While Louv’s diagnosis of “nature deficit disorder” sounds a bit sensational, his point hits close to home. This condition “describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.” Louv isn’t the only expert bemoaning the negative effects of technology. In 2010, Nicholas Carr, a technology writer with a waning attention span, wrote the book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. He asserts that the fragmented, click-a-minute, multi-tabbed nature of the internet is shortening our attention spans and preventing us from diving in deeply. Although our kindergartners are hopefully not yet surfing the internet, all media types can potentially have the same numbing effect on a child’s ability to focus.
Here are some ways parents can be proactive with their children’s consumption of media:
Be Intentional. Don’t have the TV on in the background or let junior grab a video game anytime he pleases. Decide on specific viewing times.
Mix Up the Media. Encourage your child to explore different media types. For example, have them use a computer’s mouse or touch-pad to help develop fine motor skills, or let them watch some live music or a cooking show.
Low and Slow. For younger children, experts recommend programs that are slow-paced with thoughtful, measured plots. This helps develop a child’s attention span.
Have a Media Sabbath. Choose one day a week to abstain from all media.
TV Detox Week. This is a good option after a weekend of heavy media use.
Media As a Privilege, Not a Right. Have the courage to take away media when behavior heads south. Also, consider allowing a special movie or game when your child deserves to be rewarded.
Screens are not the enemy. However, from a classical perspective, our school believes that media in the early childhood years belongs at home and not at school. It has a place in the classical pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty, but for kindergartners it is best consumed in small doses. We don’t have to become Luddites to rear our children responsibly. Make media guidelines that work for your family and stick to them. Media should be a servant to you and your family—not the other way around.
Do you have a future kindergartner or pre-kindergartner who you want to have a low-tech, hands-on education? We would love to see you at our Round Up in February! Click the link for more information.
Wondering if your child is ready for kindergarten? Download our checklist!