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No more guessing: Screen time guidelines for toddlers to teenagers

Screen time: It’s probably one of the most debated and occasionally frustrating aspects of parenting in the modern age. Pediatricians and researchers say too much time with phones, tablets or TVs is bad for developing minds. But, for many families, a screen-free childhood isn’t possible or even desirable. After all, we live in a digital age and our kids need to be tech and media savvy.


Matthew Johnson, the Director of Education for MediaSmarts, a not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy, screen-time balance is about more than counting minutes—and looks different at every stage of childhood.

Here’s what we know about age-appropriate limits for screen time:

For toddlers

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers should pretty much only see screens during occasional video chats with Grandma. In fact, The Atlantic reports that video chat evokes a different neurological response in babies and toddlers than pure TV time, noting that children seem to understand the video chat is a two-way human interaction that is different than television or even phone conversation:

“Babies who are pretty young are able to pick up, in particular, whether or not an adult is actually responding to them in real time. . . [and] researchers have found that toddlers are more comforted by their mothers via video chat than they are through audio alone. Video chat appears to be, conceptually, much easier for babies to grasp than a phone conversation,” The Atlantic notes.

But even video chat should be limited.

“There really is fairly strong evidence that time spent with screens can have a negative effect on kids’ language and other forms of development,” Johnson tells Motherly. “[It’s] not necessarily because there’s anything particularly bad about screens, but because it replaces the kinds of human interactions and physical and creative play that kids at that age really need to develop.”

For preschoolers

Three to 5 year olds are known for loving video screens as much as they love cartoon characters—and, according to Johnson, their obsession with both can be satisfied in moderation.

“There’s nothing particularly bad about handheld devices compared to other types of screens, except of course the temptation to use them as a calming or distracting device,” he says. He adds parents should plan screen time in advance so that it is only used mindfully, rather than out of desperation.

And if your kiddo is obsessed with Frozen or Paw Patrol, Johnson suggests engaging with those characters off screen.

“Many, many types of screen media content have print or other versions, so you can read a book or a comic that features those characters frequently,” he says. “You can also engage your kids in creative play. You can get them to draw or tell stories or act out their own versions of these character’s adventures.”

For elementary school-aged kids

When kids enter school and start to have new priorities, screen time needs to take a back seat. But, as they grow, parents can gradually give kids more control and choice in managing their time.

“Certainly once they start getting homework at school, you want to make sure screens aren’t a habit before work gets done,” says Johnson, who compares teaching screen time balance to teaching oral hygiene. “When kids are young, you brush their teeth but as they grow you teach them and remind them to do it.”

He suggests that as kids age, parents make distinctions between different types of screen time—as not everything has the same value.

“Specifically, instead of counting hours you might consider a creative use of screens—doing an animation project or doing school research—as being counted differently than using it in a passive way.”

For middle schoolers

According to Johnson, once a child is in middle school they can understand the concept of balance. Then it’s up to parents to help them see how that relates to screen time.

“Make a list of all the different activities that they like, that are both in screens and that aren’t involved with screens,” he says, explaining this can help them understand that there are trade-offs.

He says parents don’t need to worry if a kid gets really into a certain video game for a week or two. Just gently try to help the kid see the benefits of moderation. He explains, “They do need to develop the life skill—as we all need to do today—to recognize when we’re spending too much time doing any one thing, particularly with screens.”

For the whole family

Johnson says the biggest downside of screen time is its tendency to isolate us. To counteract that, he suggests a family movie night or outing to the cinema. Because this has a totally different affect on children than solitary YouTube sessions, parents shouldn’t worry about counting communal activities against a screen time limit.

He says parents should also have conversations about appropriate amounts of media consumption often—and model the behavior we want.

“We need to gradually shift that responsibility from us to them,” he says. “Eventually they’re going to be teenagers or they’re going to be out of the house and it's going to be entirely up to them to manage it.”

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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