Cafe Recap: Toys & Technology

Panelists: Maria Hayden and Jessica Reagan, and our moderator, Lauren Barnes.

We recently had a Cafe about playtime and creative parenting that focused on non-media related activities. The goal for today's mom-to-mom panel is to get the conversation going around technology...not to bash or applaud one way of parenting, but simply to provide you with resources, ideas and different perspectives.

The AAP suggests that "Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play. Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens." Jess agrees with this guideline but it is not a hard and fast rule in her house. She finds that having a strict rule is unproductive but she does generally limit screen time for her kids.

One study suggests taping tv shows so that you can pause and discuss the content of the show as a family when pertinent. Maria's family has a weekly dinner and a movie tradition. She finds herself screening movies before introducing them to her two-year-old, and seeing them through new eyes as a mother. She also suggests Netflix for finding content that is easy to pause and discuss.

Jess does not have limits on TV usage, in an attempt to keep TV from becoming something that her children covet and see as the ultimate treat. She has reached a point that her children will watch a little bit of TV when they want to, and then after a little bit they decide they are done and move on to something else. At one point she found her family watching more TV than desirable, so she put a blanket over the TV and said it was resting. Her kids adorably ask if the TV is sleeping, but it is not something that has become a battle in her house. She thinks that by allowing them some control over their TV time she has decreased the value of television.

TV can be used as a tool for educational purposes as well. Lauren's child was excited to see winter sports on YouTube during the excitement of the Olympics, and since these sports are not available locally it was an opportunity to learn about them. Some suggestions for getting the most out of TV:

  • Look for programs, specials, documentaries, etc that explore areas of interest to him/her.
  • Use events in the news and subjects of fictitious programs as springboards for discussion.
  • Encourage your youngster to broaden her horizons by watching programs that transport her to other times and places, or that expose her to different perspectives or philosophies.

Some favorite TV shows from our audience members: Doozers (Hulu), Dinosaur Train (PBS), Magic School Bus (Netflix), Word Girl (Netflix), Daniel Tiger, Clifford, and Sesame Street (Netflix and Amazon).

Some parents use Facetime to give grandparents and family members that live far away the opportunity to see and interact with the baby. Both of our panelists used the term "survival mode" as a time that they use TV to keep their own sanity and take a needed break.

Jess knows that her children will be exposed to and involved in media and the online community, and she wants to be the one to introduce it to them. Fighting social media is a futile battle, so she wants to educate her children on how to use it responsibly when they reach an appropriate age.

Educational apps and tools can help us make the most of the limited screen time that our children are exposed to. Some examples include sign language apps and personal care apps (bath time, potty training) . Many phones have child locks that either keep your child locked inside an app (so they don't have access to the rest of your phone), and/or allow them to only access specific parts of the screen. Educational app resources:

With the holidays approaching, we wanted to gather some ideas for children's gifts. Some of Lauren's favorites for her daughter, as well as suggestions from audience members include: costumes, puzzles, books, dolls, art supplies, memberships (museums, etc.), blocks. More gift guides and ideas:

Further resources for study: This article in Pediatrics Journal describes the impact of TV on young children's development. The AAP shares this article on Media and Children.