This is a far cry from the eight to 11 hours on average adolescents spend in front of televisions or other electronic devices. Such lengthy exposure to screens is linked to obesity, sleep and behavior problems.
Local educators have heard this message and have made some decisions that support the unplugging of our children. Saugerties elementary schools, for instance, issued summer reading challenges, including one that asked students to spend “at least one weekend (or any two days in a row) with no TV/computer/video games.”
The preschool classes at Children’s Workshop in Twin Maples Plaza also limit the use of computers or video to special occasions. Director Amanda Bradley says she has seen the impact of overexposure to screen time on children. “We notice children who have excess exposure to screen time become reliant on it as a calming and coping mechanism. They are unable to sit and participate in different activities unless it includes an electronic device. The attention span and patience on these children is significantly less than those with limited screen time.”
Some parents also limit their children’s screen time. Nikki Weismann, whose six- and nine-year-old children attend Riccardi, says she recently read an article that said children with excess screen time are more prone to depression and ADHD. “It was frightening,” she said. “I do not want my kid growing up addicted to anything unless it is healthy. He needs to be able to entertain himself, explore his world, play outside.”
Weismann’s children earn an hour of screen time a day, split between the morning and evening, with good behavior.
Amy Sullivan, whose children are entering kindergarten and first grade at Riccardi this year, has similar limits. Her children are allowed between 30 and 60 minutes of screen time a day, depending on weather, and typically get this time on a tablet rather than on a television. Sullivan says “screen time is more of a privilege than a right in our home.”
Her rules are inspired by her own childhood. She says, “When I was young, we didn’t have much in the way of screen time and I had a great childhood, coming home tired and dirty. I want that for our kids. I’d rather have them outside playing in a dirt pile than on a couch watching movies or shows.”
Melissa Kappler, who has three children age seven and under, focuses her limits on the types of shows her children watch. She says when they were small, she only let them watch educational shows, but as they grew, there were fewer shows teaching academic skills. Now, she says, she allows only “shows that have been recommended by other parents or ones I watch first.” She focuses on the ones that teach good values.
Of course, not all the children are happy about it. Weismann says though her youngest doesn’t mind the rules, her older son “hates my limits, mainly because his best pal has no limits set.” She says he “would do it all day and night if I let him.”
While Sullivan says her children don’t put up too much of a fuss, since the rules have been in place their entire lives, she anticipates that may change as they grow older. “Realistically speaking, I’m positive they’ll be watching TV or movies in different ways as they age. It will probably continue to remain a privilege, though, because they’ll have more responsibilities as they age as well.”
Kappler agrees that there will be changes as her children grow. Already, she says of her oldest, “It has gotten progressively harder to tear her away from the TV. If it was up to her, she would binge-watch season after season of shows on Netflix.” She says, too, the kind of show her daughter watches has gradually changed, since she hears about different shows from her peers. “The first five years or so I only allowed shows that were educational, but once she started school and the other kids were watching different things, it gradually changed.”