The Pregnancy Center of Central Iowa moved to its current location on 1st Avenue West about 18 months ago.  That move cut my “commute” to my workplace to a whopping 16 blocks traveled on only two streets.  Sounds ridiculous, but it sure helps with time and gasoline!

During the course of traveling to and from PCCI, I noticed something that is becoming very rare in today’s society.  I pass a two-story white house situated on a corner lot twice, at least twice, each work day.  I soon noticed that on my return home in late afternoon, three of the small children who appeared to live in that house were always outside playing, weather permitting.  They used trikes and bikes, balls and sticks, and a sundry of other makeshift toys in their play.  They were nearly always on the move, running, jumping, spinning and more.

I soon noticed that this little family of kids was a virtual magnet for other children in the neighborhood, drawing them to their yard for fun and games, as well.  I laughed to myself, that as much use as that lawn received, there wouldn’t be much grass to mow!  The best part, for me, was that they soon began to recognize me and my car and stopped to wave at me each afternoon.

One fall afternoon, the whole family was headed down the street to a City of Newton Public Park that is a few blocks away.  The three children were accompanied by both Mom and Dad, plus two younger siblings in strollers.  I stopped my car, rolled down my window and spoke to the parents.  I told them that I thought they were good parents because their children were always outside playing and getting exercise after school.  I think they were a bit taken aback by my forward nature, but they smiled and thanked me.

My point in this story is that our children are spending far too much of their waking hours in front of screens, and that fact is taking some serious tolls.  For clarification, “screens” include televisions, computers, tablets, notebooks, video games and smart phones.  Educational, medical and psychological experts all concur that anything over two hours per twenty-four carries potential danger and damage, especially for younger children.

Last year at PCCI, we had guest speakers from our local AEA present a thought-provoking program on the effects of excessive screen time in language development in toddlers.  These professionals gave outcome based evidence that language development was slowed and hampered in children who spent too many hours in front of a screen.  And guess what?  A big part of the problem is that parents are also addicted to their screens, and therefore are not talking to or interacting with their little ones, which is precisely how children learn language!

How many times have you been in a public venue such as a restaurant and witnessed a group, family or even a couple who are glued to their phones or PCs instead of conversing with eye contact?  People are actually texting each other instead of speaking when they are in the same room!  What kind of interpersonal communication skills are we teaching our children and youth?  Listening to, speaking to, and being a caring presence to others is a critical part of building their self-worth.  But, these actions seem to be becoming a dying art.  As parents and caring adults, we owe it to our children to set better limits and boundaries concerning their time spent in front of screens.

Just this month, the results of a study were released that young children who spend more than 30 minutes daily in front of screens are eight times more likely to develop ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Eight times!  That statistic alone should be enough to stir us to action.

The organization and movement toward making Iowa a Healthiest State advocates that “Healthy Choices Count!”  They promote the 5210 Program for children as a part of that effort.  5210 stands for:

     5 – servings of fruit and vegetables daily

     2 – hours or less of screen time daily

     1 – one hour or more of physical activity daily

     0 – sugary drinks and more water

Many of our school aged children are required to spend screen time in school as a result of using computers and/or tablets and notebooks to complete projects and assignments.  It is up to the adults in their lives to monitor screen time outside of school hours.  And it is certainly up to adults to carefully watch the screen time for toddlers below school age.

Lastly, watching and monitoring our children’ screen time is one thing.  Leading by example is the morally right way to handle this critical situation.  Put down your own screens.  Interact.  Communicate. Build relationships.  Our kids, families, communities and the world will be the better for it.