Recently a popular unschooling facebook group had posted on their wall a homeschooler’s article on ditching the tv and the dangers of screen time. This piece stirred up quite an emotional response in defence of tv from the group members, much to my surprise as I have always understood unschooling to be a way of raising and educating children which engages children in learning through exploration in ‘real life experiences’.
I began my parenting journey with a ‘No TV’ ideal and managed to follow this through well at the beginning at least. Up until Ulysses reached 18 months old our family ditched pretty much all screen time including tv, computer games and visual online media. At this time we introduced a few Disney films such as ‘Tangled’ and we also began to watch YouTube videos online as a guide to help us in the kitchen with learning about juicing. To our surprise, Ulysses became fascinated to watching these juicing videos repetitively. At the time we reasoned that as this skill was being transferred practically in the kitchen in real time, it was not a problem and served as an educational tool. The problems then occurred as he grew older and one video and film lead on to many more. It gradually crept in and encroached upon much of the time he use to spend exploring outside in the real world. Behavioural changes including increased aggression, reduced attention span and increased hyperactivity also became more and more apparent as he transferred from watching screen time to other activities in a slower paced, real time.
Ulysses is now over three years old and the addiction has continued on and off since that time. At points he will be glued to the screen for hours on end if I do not set boundaries, resulting in walking away in a groggy mood, rubbing his eyes. Before screen time came into his existence he was never reluctant to go outside and play like he oftern is now. Some people have suggested that these changes could be due to normal developmental stages. In my experience this has not been the case as during the periods we have managed to have with very little or no screen time, the behaviour reverts back to a more balanced state.
TV and screen time can be used for different purposes for example, as an electronic babysitter for those struggling with lack of support and time to themselves. It has also been claimed that TV need not be harmful and may be used as a useful educational resource. This point does have some truth in I agree however, in ny experience I have found that during times when our Internet and screen time was inaccessible, either because it wasn’t working or we were visiting family, Ulysses was more likely to step back outdoors or into playing by using his imagination and connecting with others.
Through movement and active play children’s learning capacity is enhanced much more than when they sit sedentary such as at a desk or in front of a TV or computer. Yes of course we can access materials and information via a screen that we might not otherwise be able to but is all this really necessary for young children, especially below age seven when there is such a rich variety of other learning opportunities such as museums, farms, libraries ect.
It’s a bit of an old fashioned statement but one that definitely still rings true that before TV kids use to have to use their imagination to entertain themselves and their learning did not suffer, rather their creativity was improved as a result.
Here are some more great reasons to beware of unlimited screen time:
- It can interfere with your child’s sleep/wake cycle and leave them tired.
‘several research groups have shown that applying a magnetic field (EMF) of a half a gauss or less, ….will increase or decrease production of pineal melatonin and serotonin ( sleep hormones). Other groups have observed physical changes in glands (pineal) cells in response to such fields, These experiments were controlled for illumination…’ (The Body Electric by M.D Robert Becker. P249)
- EMF exposure from devices such as wifi, TV and computer games can negatively impact your child’s immune system, especially alongside other factors which accompany screen time such as sitting sedentary for too many hours in succession without exercising the body in between.
‘Most city dwellers continuously get more than a tenth of a microwatt from television microwaves alone. This may be especially significant, because of the human body’s resonant frequency. This is the wavelength to which the body responds “as an antenna”. Next to ELF (extremely low frequency) range, it’s perhaps the region of the spectrum in which the strongest bioeffects may be expected. The peak human resonant frequency lies right in the middle of the VHF television band.’ (The Body Electric by M.D. Robert Becker. P311).
‘Nowadays, the first thing a kid will do in the morning is put on his or her shoes and the last thing at night is take them off. So they are ungrounded pretty much all the time, and this constitutes, I believe to a lot of the new health and emotional problems that kids have today, and it’s another factor to add to the list of causes such as junk foods, lack of exercise, and being exposed to EMF pollution from long hours of television, computers and video games.’ (Earthing by Clint Ober, p112).
- Watching media can influence how a child’s brain will develop and create such issues as hyperactivity and possibly even language delay. Watch for the following video link to find out more:
The truth of the matter is that many parents, like myself have become reliant on these technologies to supplement missing ‘needs’ in their lives. This could involve substituting wildlife documentaries for a disconnection with nature, soap operas for a disconnection from a true community and emotional support and perhaps watching comedies to reduce stress levels caused by our un-family friendly, work orientated culture.
So could there be a healthy balance for kids watching screen time? Perhaps for older children but not likely in the younger first five years of life when the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred and needs and wants often cannot be differentiated. Through experience I have found that adverts are not the only part of TV with subliminal messages. Thomas the tank engine comes to mind as one example when children are encouraged to accept authority without question.
With grace and truth we can learn to recognise and accept the true costs of allowing kids to reside in a virtual world and let go of what is not serving their long term health and well being. I am certainly not an advocate of controlling children by making something forbidden as this only serves in making that something even more alluring as well as conveying the message that you do not trust them, harming their self image.
I do however, believe in setting safe boundaries rather than being totally permissive. In the case of limiting TV and/or screen time this will serve to both protect the developing brain and minimise electromagnetic stress on their mind and body which can negatively impact the immune system. By encouraging kids to engage in real play through movement, human interaction and using their imagination, we can begin to release screen time gracefully by crowding out the old with new endeavours. Until we reach point all we can do is the best you can to balance screen time with real living and being the change you want to see in your child by reducing or eliminating your own screen time.