Bombarding young mice with video and audio stimulation changes the way the brain develops. But some scientists think those sorts of brain changes could protect kids from stressing out in a busy world.
I have four-year-old twins- a boy and a girl. My wife and I dramatically limit their screen time. There is absolutely no screen time allowed during the week, with the exception that we may allow Curious George for an hour or two if they are sick. (Our children attend Waldorf, which requires parents to minimize screen time.) On the weekend, I will let them draw on my iPad (that’s screen time in our family). I will also occasionally show a movie trailer, e.g., Star Wars, Wonder Woman. Finally, we will occasionally show a YouTube video as a learning adjunct, e.g., what does a Nightingale sound like when singing, the planets and their orbits around the sun. I estimate that the children watch about an hour every two weeks. One other exception is cross-country flights to visit the grandparents.
Both enjoy their screen time, but there are some differences. Since a friend of ours showed his four-year-old son the scene of Fin, Rey, and BB8 running from stormtroopers on Jakku and their escape in the Millenium Falcon, I decided it was okay to show it to my twins. I didn’t tell my wife before doing so (see note below). My son loved it. My daughter became scared at the first explosion and asked what was happening. I reminded her that it was make believe, but given how she was feeling, maybe we should watch this when she was a bit older. She readily agreed. My son was having none of it! I stopped the scene and decided it was best to wait a few years.
Both children enjoy watching movie trailers and I am selective in what I show them. The trailers generate lots of questions and it’s a fun way of getting into conversations with them and telling the stories behind the trailers.
I probably will not change their screen time because of this article. It will dramatically reduce the guilt I feel when allowing them to watch two hours of Curious George when they are sick (I guess I am not infecting them with ADD/HD).
I do think it’s worth mentioning one surprising benefit of dramatically minimizing screen time. If you are not allowed to default to screen time as a babysitter, you have to come up with some activities for the kids to do, or you (the parent) will go insane quite quickly. The twins have developed an interest art (e.g., sculpting, painting) and music (yes, I did buy my son a drum set and he’s taught himself and he’s quite good for a four-year-old). One of the activities we do is play
One of the activities we do is play the soundtracks to movies, e.g., all the Star Wars movie soundtracks. The twins ask what is happening with each song and I end up narrating the entire movie. It’s an awesome bonding experience and you also realize how much better episodes one through three are when you tell them as opposed to watching them. The conversations can be hard (how do you explain how and why Anakin became Darth Vader) and why was Darth Vader trying to hurt his son. Speaking your four-year-old twins about the nature of good and evil and its effects on the soul makes you think.
So, I recommend reduced screen time filled with movie soundtracks! (And you never thought you’d get parenting advice on this blog, eh?)
Note: In The Force Awakens, Han Solo states to Fin, “Women always figure out the truth. Always.” If your children can talk, don’t think for a second they won’t go running to mommy to tell her you just showed them the Dr. Strange trailer!