The Plate Meets the Tablet

Editor’s Note:  This post was written by Friend of Tablettoddlers (FOT) Rich Gallagher, author of the We’re Gonna Need More Bathrooms blog.  Gallagher, father of two young girls, a Michigan native and huge Tigers fan, bet Tablettoddlers on the Red Sox/Tigers series (Tablettoddlers is based in Boston) with the losing having to guest-post on the winner’s blog.  Here it is. Thanks for being a good sport, Rich.

You feed your kids a balanced diet. What’s their media diet like?

Earlier this week, the American Association of Pediatrics issued revised guidelines for how much time kids can safely spend with onscreen entertainment. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth checking out, because you probably won’t find another academic journal article today where a guy named Vic guarantees your kids are watching porn.

Years ago, the whole enterprise was called “TV time,” but now it refers to combined time kids spend in front of all glowing rectangles, or “screen time.” Continuing a years-long trend, Peds revised down the recommended time to under two hours for kids over two years old, and no screen time at all for those under two. It makes sense (especially the “under 2” part), but it doesn’t seem very realistic. After all, a not-insignificant number of infants spend time with tablets and smartphones every day.

Feasibility aside, I think the mode of study itself is flawed considering all the things our screens do now. Quantifying entertainment content in hours alone is a lot like quantifying food by weight alone. 8 12oz glasses of water a day is doctor recommended, while 8 glasses of whiskey are…not.

I’m more interested in the nutritional content of what my kids are watching, playing, or reading on a device than watching the clock. Not all content is created equal.

A kid spending an hour with Minecraft is exercising mental “muscles” for creativity, spatial  reasoning, and problem solving. It’s a much more essential part of a balanced media diet than an hour of Spongebob Squarepants. And the AAP recommends we spend at least 20 minutes a day reading to our kids – but does that cut into their 2 hours of allotted screen time if we happen to be reading from an ebook on my iPad?

Pediatricians now say kids should spend 2 hours at most in front of screens. But measuring entertainment content by time alone seems shortsighted. I’d like to see deeper exploration into the nature of the content.

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