When my daughter was a toddler in the 1990’s we bought her a Sesame Street computer game, fully prepared to teach her how to wield the mouse and click her way around Elmo’s playroom. To our shock and delight she was a natural, skillfully manipulating her way around the game as if the mouse was an extension of her hand. Twenty years later we take it for granted that our kids are born with a natural affinity for anything involving technology and researchers are trying to figure out exactly how the digital world should fit into our children’s lives.
A few days ago the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with their first ever guidelines for how much screen time is healthy for kids under the age of five. They recommended no screen time at all for babies under a year old and less than an hour a day for kids ages three to four. Their definition of screen time included TV and videos, electronic devices, and computer games. Their recommendations were based not necessarily on the fact that screen time is inherently bad for little ones, but that increased screen time increases sedentary behavior which in turn leads to decreased physical activity. It is the emphasis on physical activity which is the key point to these WHO guidelines. Dr. Fiona Bull, a program manager at WHO had this to say: “Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and well-being, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life”. Other childhood researchers disagreed with the new guidelines saying that they did not take into account the quality of the digital interactions, only the quantity. So what’s the upshot of these new recommendations? As with most things in life, moderation and common sense go a long way in figuring out how to interpret this kind of advice.