Among the more modern anxieties of parents today is how virtual assistants will train their children to act. The fear is that kids who habitually order Amazon’s Alexa to read them a story or command Google’s Assistant to tell them a joke are learning to communicate not as polite, considerate citizens, but as demanding little twerps. Not to mention the fear that comes with the unfiltered content that may be provided when a child makes a misunderstood request! This worry has become so widespread that Amazon and Google both announced this week that their voice assistants can now encourage kids to punctuate their requests with “please.” The version of Alexa that inhabits the new Echo Dot Kids Edition will thank children for “asking so nicely.” Google Assistant’s forthcoming Pretty Please feature will remind kids to “say the magic word” before complying with their wishes. While this sounds like a promising move in the right direction, there will never be a substitute for a good conversation or at least the genuine interest afforded from Mom or Dad. They need your attention, even if your not a global search engine. We know, we know… “I’m really busy right now!”, “I haven’t studied that since 5th grade!”, “Google it!”. No body is a perfect parent, but give them as much of the best of you as you possibly can!
It’s a scene we’re sure you’ve witnessed again and again:
A family is sitting in a restaurant having dinner. The four year old is clearly fed up with sitting, and starts to complain, jump on her seat or run around. But a few moments later, she’s quietly in her seat again, enabling her parents and older siblings to enjoy a peaceful meal and conversation for the next 30 minutes.
Her father handed her his iPhone.
It’s a scene we see repeated in doctors’ waiting rooms, supermarkets, public transportation… and while we entirely understand it, it also saddens us. So many caring, well-meaning parents are unaware of the developmental damage caused to their children by exposure to screen time and screen media. Televisions. Computer monitors. Tablets. Smartphones. Dumb phones. Children’s toy computers. Kindles. The Apple watch. If it gives off electromagnetic radiation in the visual spectrum, it’s a screen. In many ways screens have changed our lives for the better. In other ways, they’ve changed our lives and the lives of our children – and not necessarily for the better.
The original official policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics (made in 1999 and reaffirmed in 2011) states that “pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television [or other media] viewing for children under the age of two years.” Children between 2 and 5 should be limited to “no more than 1 hour per day.”
In 2016 they issued a policy adjustment stating that pediatricians should discourage any media use under the age of 18 months, except for video-chatting (as often happens with far-away relatives). Between 18 and 24 months, if a parent wants to introduce screen media, then they should choose high-quality apps and use it together with their toddlers. (Although the policy indicates that the educational benefits for children under the age of 24 months are low, and come mainly from parent interaction with the child, and not from the media itself.)
While the original policy of the AAP called for children older than 5 to be viewing no more than 2 hours of media daily, the updated 2016 recommendations explains that in today’s world, when media is everywhere, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Families need to make themselves aware of the risks and benefits of media use, and create individualized plans for their children, including enough sleep and physical exercise.
Reasons given by the AAP – and other research studies – include associations with obesity, sleep issues, aggressive behaviors, less time spent in developmentally helpful interaction with parents and siblings, language delays and attention issues.
Reference is made to the potentially harmful effect of media exposure during the rapid brain development period of age 0-2, but most studies – and even the AAP policies – don’t delve into the details of the impact on your child’s brain.
We’d like to give you a peek behind the scenes, and show you what happens to the brain when it’s in the process of viewing screen media.
Screens Give Your Body the Blues
We’ve all been fooled by the “what color is white light?” question. Answer: all of them! Natural daylight, provided by our sun, is made up of all the colors of the visual spectrum, although there does tend to be a little more blue light emitted than the other colors.
The blue light of natural sunlight does some great things for our body. It boosts attention, reaction times and mood, and it suppresses melatonin (the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythms and makes you sleepy when it increases) so you can be awake and alert during your active hours. That’s great for your body – in the daytime. When your body is supposed to be winding down for sleep, however, it’s another story. Most of today’s devices are illuminated by LEDs, which have a much higher percentage of blue lightwaves than any other light source – natural or artificial. Here’s what “white” light is really made of in the following artificial light sources:
White LEDs are almost entirely blue light, combined with a chemical compound to make it look white. Night-time exposure to LED-illuminated devices (most of the screens out there today: computers, tablets, phones, flat screen TVs, e-readers, video games) suppresses melatonin and disrupts the natural sleep cycle.
This Scientific American article describes the following study where volunteers spent several evenings reading for a prolonged period of time before a 10PM imposed bedtime. Some used printed books and some used e-readers. Those who used e-readers took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep and felt sleepier and less alert for hours after they woke up in the morning – even if they had gotten the same amount of sleep.
Here are a number of solutions on finding balance for your children and their tech: