Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic. She is a regular contributor to Thriving.
Misery loves company, as the saying goes. Swap out “misery” for “happiness” and you’ve got a much better outcome. Happier kids create happier parents.
So, what if I told you that by making just one small change, you could have a child who is happier, healthier, more relaxed and more connected with those around them?
“What is it?” you ask, on the edge of your seat. “What’s the secret?”
“All you need to do…”
“Yes?” you say, your eyes bright and encouraging.
“…is limit television and screen time.”
Did I already lose you?
Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.
Q: My daughter comes home and the first thing she says is, “I want to watch Doc McStuffins.” We try to avoid TV during the week and let her watch it on the weekends. She is 2 now, but before this, she was not exposed to television. If we tell her we don’t watch TV during the week, she may get upset and say she doesn’t want to go to school. Should we be concerned?? I don’t want to make TV some “prized possession.” We want a balanced approach in our household. I just get concerned when I hear her freak out if we don’t want to put on her favorite show.
–Doubting Doc in Norcross, GA
A: Dear Doubting,
The fact that your daughter asks for this show every time you come home probably means two things:
- She’s trying to master television viewing as an activity. She likely asks for this over and over the same way she might ask over and over for anything that is novel and, like television, a developmental stretch.
Q: Each morning while I shower and get dressed, I let my two-year-old son watch 10-15 minutes of an innocuous video. This has worked well to keep him safe and still while I shower, but he pitches a fit every time I turn the movie off, despite the fact that we do this same routine every day and have discussed several times that movie watching is just for when Mommy is in the shower. This is the only transition in his routine that turns him into a screaming monster every single day. I don’t think it’s good for either of us, but I’m not sure what else would be as effective at keeping him safe while I’m in the shower. Any suggestions?
–Showers and Storms, in Boston, MA
A: Dear Showers,
Based on how long your shower routine takes (10-15 minutes) and your son’s reaction to the video being turned off, my guess is that the shower and the video don’t finish at the same time. Toddlers have a hard time leaving a story unfinished, especially when the reason for doing so (in this case, how long it takes you to get ready) has nothing to do with them. And explaining to them that they have to fit to your schedule, as you’ve found, doesn’t really work. …
Q: I have an son who’s 11 and a daughter who’s 9½, and for many years, they have sat close to the TV when watching. I have asked them to sit farther away, and they do move back maybe a foot…but they always go back to viewing the show close up, even if the screen is a 40” color flat screen. Any studies that show why? Any concerns? My wife and I sit 8 to 10 feet from the TV.
–Up Close and Personal, in Rochester Hills, MI
A: Dear Up Close,
Concern about sitting close to TV screens, like concern about reading in low light, is founded more on what our parents told us when we were little than on research. The worries about sitting close dates from the (not so long ago) time when TVs were actually “tubes”—cathode ray tubes, that is—and people were uncertain about how the cathode radiation emitted might affect a viewer’s eyes. Today’s TVs flatscreens only emit the light you see, which removes that concern. And there’s no evidence that sitting close to either kind of screen hurts your eyes.
That said, the fact that your children sit so close to the TV may be a sign that they are near-sighted and that this distance is where they best resolve the pixels of color, light, and darkness into a coherent image. Bring them in for an eye exam to see whether they need glasses.
If their eyes are fine, then they probably sit close because they like having the screen fill their peripheral vision. That shouldn’t cause any problems. Just make sure that they aren’t staring at screens all the time—that can cause eye strain and, of course, will take time away from all of the other activities they need to accomplish in a day to be happy and healthy.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,