Parents should actively monitor the time children spend watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Internet. Too much screen time limits the time children have for activities like reading or being creative, said Diane Bales, a human development specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under the age of two not watch any TV.
“The big issue is the level of participation,” Bales said. “When children are in front of the TV, they are doing something passive and are not actively involved. They are not physically active, problem solving or engaged creatively. They are passively observing.”
Carefully choose which programs children watch. According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, children as young as 14 months will imitate what they see on TV.
“Parents should watch TV with their children and discuss what is going on,” Bales said. “Ask questions to help them process the content. Encourage them to talk about what is happening and why.”
For toddlers, parents may simply describe what is being seen. For older children, encourage them to talk about what is happening and discuss the decision-making taking place.
Starting in the preschool years, children may become interested in using computers to create and share ideas. At age three, with some help, they can be ready to start creating projects and sharing. Adults should be involved in computer time, but the child should handle the controls. Learning to navigate the computer with a mouse and how to type on a keyboard are important skills children need before they start school.
Look for more than simple “drill-and-practice” computer games for children. Instead, choose programs that allow children to be creative.
Video and computer games should be complex enough to be interesting and entertaining but not too complicated and frustrating. On the Internet, shy away from commercial sites advertizing food, toys or animated characters.
“Kids are bombarded by advertising, but they don’t understand that someone is trying to sell them something,” she said.
Go to Web sites that encourage creativity. Many allow children to work with photos, words, audio and video.
Children can write and illustrate a book at tikatok.com. They can create photo slideshows and add commentary using voiceThread.com. And they can create resources to accompany school projects like posters at gloster.com, timelines at dipity.com and tests at MyStudiyo.com. A good list of kid-friendly resources is available at weewebwonders.synthasite.com.
“These kinds of sites are good because children can be creative and share their own ideas,” Bales said.
Sharing what they create with family members who may live far away is one way to stay connected. But, parents should monitor the information their child is sharing carefully.
“There is a lot of risk when young children become exposed to the Internet,” she said. “Children don’t have the judgment to know what information to share and what not to share. Young children are trusting of people and can give out too much information. They should be monitored carefully.”
(April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)