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5 Benefits to “Unplugging”

Parents are at a crossroads when it comes to screen time. On the one hand, letting our children watch Daniel Tiger while we wait in line at the DMV is a huge lifesaver. But on the other, we are becoming more aware of how digital technology (smart phones, tablets, Internet-enabled electronic devices, even television) is impacting our society.

In a recent survey, 62 percent of parents said they were “very worried about the time my child spends on their own device,” with some parents reporting very noticeable behavioral changes when their children engaged in less screen-time usage.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these guidelines:

  • Families create a media plan
  • Children 18-months and younger: Avoid screen time and video-chatting
  • Children 18-24 months: High-quality programming only that you watch with your child
  • Ages 2-5: Limit to 1 hour per day
  • Ages 6 and older: Place limits on how much and the type of screen usages they engage in
  • Designate screen-free time as a family

Whether you are a pro- or anti-digital parent, it’s safe to say that digital devices are here to stay. But there are proven benefits to unplugging (or reducing screen time) for you, your child and the whole family.

Here are 5 beneficial effects of limiting how much time we spend on digital devices.

  1. Unplugging allows for deeper, more engaged play: Digital games and shows are very engaging for children. They love the colors, shapes, and sounds, and how easy it is to switch from one thing to another. Every action has an immediate effect, which is rewarding and pleasurable. In contrast, the real-world can seem boring compared to the digital world. Unplugging from digital technology helps children engage on a deeper level with their imaginative play. Suddenly, children take unused toys off the shelf and play for hours; children will also play with friends or family more often rather than playing on a device in isolation.
  2. Less Screen time = More opportunities for language development: While there are lots of children’s programs and apps that can teach children their ABCs, colors, numbers, and shapes, the best way to boost your child’s language and cognitive skills is through face-to-face time with parents, caregivers, and family. Through face-to-face interactions and warm connected relationships, children learn receptive language skills, as well as how to read and respond to people’s emotions and nonverbal (such as frowns, smiles, crossed arms) cues from friends and family. When children ages 0-3 are consistently engaged with parents and caregivers, they learn to read facial expressions, listen to tone of voice, and problem solve in social interactions.
  3. Less screen time allows more time for physical activity: Motor skills, such as running and jumping, develop through exploring environments. In fact, all learning is enhanced by doing rather than listening or watching, and especially through their relationship with their primary caregiver. Without the distractions of screens, infants and toddlers move through their environment to interact with their caregivers and peers, manipulate objects, move their body and learn with encouragement from their parents. As children grow, they may even prefer going to the playground, riding their bikes, playing outdoors, and moving their body through the world.
  4. Toddlers engage in greater Independent play: Learning to play independently from mom or dad is a skill children learn with practice. If children aren’t given the opportunity to practice this skill, they can have a harder time entertaining and playing by themselves. Over the course of the day, you can give your child opportunities to practice independent play while you, for example, make lunch, fold the laundry, or make a phone call. These are opportunities for children to explore on their own. Be sure to be available when your child wants to check in or be assured of your presence. This is a sign of positive, healthy and secure attachment. Remember, you are always their secure base, with arms open either to encourage exploration or welcome them back.
  5. Less screen time can improve sleep: It’s been shown that the blue light from our smartphones, TVs, and tablets, can affect a person’s melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) levels, which is responsible for our sleep patterns. Overtime, this can affect a child’s ability to settle down at night. Sleep experts recommend turning off devices at least two hours before bedtime. Make this a part of your bedtime routine;  you can create a special time for connection through relaxing games, reading together, bedtime snack, etc.

Meaningful time together as a family

As parents, we are our children’s #1 role model. You can set a good example by putting devices away in order to do activities together, such as reading books, drawing pictures, or playing a board game. This takes commitment and self regulation on your part;  we all feel the allure of our devices. It helps to turn off the sound and put them out of sight. Even hearing that alert sound compels many of us to check our phones. You can give yourself and your children the gift of your full presence, for connection is a two-way street!

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).  Parenting Now is passionate about happy, healthy families. 

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