I am sitting in the airport again reading articles and waiting on a flight to visit grandchildren in Texas. I just finished an article that raises a question about whether or not it is good for 18month olds to use a tablet computer. The article also questions how much time the 18month child should spend playing with an I-pad or similar device. Pros and cons were presented in the article. The main concern was that when children this young spend any significant amount of time looking and interacting with a screen that it affects their ability to interact with people.

The average child in the US today is spending more than 4 hours of screen time a day either watching television or playing computer games. At the same time childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions while achievement test scores have declined. The problem with TV/screen time as I see it is threefold. It requires physical inactivity. It prevents actual physical interaction in the process of learning. It presents content that can either be useful, mediocre or even destructive in nature.

As a family doctor, I often see children who weigh more than is good for them. The heart of the problem is physical inactivity. Childhood obesity is mostly blamed on soda and junk food. While I can agree that excessive amounts of these kinds of foods can add on the pounds, I do not think that Twinkies are the problem. We had them when I was a kid and we did not struggle with childhood obesity. The difference was and is television or screen time. When my brother and I were drinking an occasional Pepsi and eating oatmeal cookies we weren't watching 4 hours of television. We were allowed 30 minutes and then we were told, "Go out and play." And, we gladly did. It is inactivity today, not the quality of our diets that is the main culprit in obesity.

The second destructive aspect of television/computer use is that it takes time. It takes up time that children need to interact with parents, siblings and friends. It takes up time that is needed to explore their environment, learn their colors, numbers, letters, and yes how to read. Television and tablets take up precious time that the child needs for learning how to play with other children and interact with adults. Tablets and television are no substitute for learning how to build real human relationships.  For humans relationships there is no such thing as virtual reality!

The third reason television/screen time is trouble for children is that the content of most of television and computer games is an absolute disaster. Programs are rarely even morally neutral. Political and sexual agendas are chronically injected into programs that are supposed to be educational. I suggest that no parent set their child in front of a television to watch unsupervised content.

Raising children is a hands-on occupation. Someone will do it. Parents have the blessing and privilege to invest their time in raising and discipling their children for God’s glory.  Moses told us in Deuteronomy 6 that we are to be teaching our children when they rise, on the way to work and home, and at the dinner table and on the way to bed. We can substitute screen time in that process, but we do so at our children’s and our own peril. And, no I do not think it is a good thing to put an 18 month old in front of a TV or a computer screen!

“Tablets a Hit with the Kids but Experts Worry”, Associated Press on the web.  Bree Fowler,  Dec 24th 2013

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