Family Health

The Need to Unplug - the Reasons Why are Unsurpassed

A New Year's resolution

The holidays are upon us. We just finished celebrating Christmas and New Year’s isn’t far behind. It is time to take a deep breath and think about the upcoming year.

Many times we resolve to make a change for the following year – whether it be to lose weight, eat healthier, or reach out to friends we have lost touch with. My resolution for the new year as a parent and a pediatrician is to “unplug.”

A wish to be present

My resolution to unplug as a parent came about over the last few weeks, as it has gotten colder outside. I realized as I was cruising food blogs for new recipes, that it was very quiet in my house. One child was playing Wii in the basement, one child was on his DS in the living room and the third was having some Elmo time. None of us were interacting with one another. It is definitely fine to have some down time, but we were all somewhat zoned out.

With the advent of the smartphone and social media, I often see parents, including myself, checking email, social updates and surfing the web while attending playgroup, soccer games and swim meets. We should be watching our kids, not our phones. I am just as guilty of this as the rest.

Time to unplug

I remember seeing an advertisement by Fisher Price for a bouncy seat with a tablet holder a few years ago.  I was recently reminded of this and I realized how important it is, as a pediatrician, for me to continue to convey to parents the message that it is the time we all unplug.

Children under the age of two do not need any screen time. Children over the age of two should not have more than two hours every day. Screen time is not only television, it includes the iPad, computer, DS, Nintendo Switch or whatever gaming device with a screen you choose.

The benefits of reading

Instead, trade screen time for reading time. Parents need to read to their children. Reading not only promotes literacy in children, but also imagination, conversation and creativity. It can help to stimulate speech development as well as learning how words work together. Reading also plays a role in promoting conversations and questions.

Reading with the parent is a shared time – an opportunity to foster a healthy relationship with your child. It may even stimulate conversations about a parent’s past. Sharing stories with your child about your own past can help them understand you better and also gain insight as to who they are as well.

Start a conversation

When they do have screen time, use it to also foster a conversation. Discuss the shows they are watching with them and talk about the colors or shapes they are seeing. If they are playing a video game, discuss strategy, but then limit their time playing the game as well. Instead, pull out the board games and puzzles. If your child is younger, encourage pretend play.

Logging off and tuning in

Come January 1st, I will be turning off my alerts and logging off more to pay attention to the life and action that surrounds me… especially those of my children. I encourage you to unplug as well.

Happy New Year!

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Walenz loves seeing kids grow as well as helping them lead long and healthy lives. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development.

Dr. Walenz sees patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

See more articles from Elizabeth Walenz, MD
Photo of Elizabeth Walenz, MD