Watching screens: Can it help your child’s nutrition?

Brenda-Janschek-Sceentime

A guest post by Simone Emery from Play With Food

Many of you wouldn’t be surprised there are growing trends linking technology usage with poorer nutrition selections, higher rates of inactivity and over eating. We live in a digital world and the long term implications are still emerging. What is more concerning is that screen use has changed dramatically for our children and the ramifications are yet to be fully understood.

We use screens via our phones, our tablets, the TV and laptops, let alone in the work environment. Our children observe our screen use and they may have a range of screen options being offered to them from a very early age. A 2015 poll by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association found that 24% of 2-year-olds had screens on during dinner and by the age of 8 this figure had risen to over 45%.

What is the impact on diets?

The research is mounting about the dietary impact of technologies and not very much of it is good news.

The main dietary impacts include a tendency towards lower dietary variety, increased consumption of foods that are easier to eat and having a more sedentary lifestyle.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for nutrition and screen time. Yet, before diving into what to watch, I believe families should consider their own goals. We need to set and protect boundaries about technology use. We also need to set and protect the roles we play in providing, preparing and partaking in food. I say “set and protect” specifically here because having the whole family on the same page helps avoid confusion that can lead to conflict (aka techno tantrums, mealtime meltdowns and ensuing stress). It also means that you are mindful of this on a daily basis by protecting your boundaries. A family’s boundaries need to consider who, what (content), when and where.

The “what” of screen usage should definitely pass through a content filter appropriate to your family. A good guideline for understanding the “what” of content for children is that the content should assist their development and is age appropriate. So, you wouldn’t be surprised at finding content that helps nutrition (especially for kids) is not easy to find. There are an amazing number of adverts, body image issues and negative self-talk weaved into digital content. However, research shows that if screens are used with another person (known as co-viewing), the child learns from spontaneous conversation and there is more effective gate-keeping of appropriate messages.

Your conversations can be enriched significantly by co-viewing media with your child.

This is especially important for children that are still learning about new foods.

Yes, by cleverly using screens and the opportunities it affords you can have meaningful impact on diet.

Ideas of ways that you can co-view screens with your child to enhance their nutrition:

  • How to guides for preparing fruits and vegetables (YouTube has some funny and unusual ways to prepare fruits and vegetables  
  • Looking up recipes and watching cooking instructional videos
  • Making your own cooking video
  • Taking pictures of your meals together and discussing the physical properties of the meals together (a great idea for a food anxious child to remove pressure language from the mealtime but give you a chance to still have the food chat you want)
  • Helping write a shopping list by googling pictures of the foods you want to buy
  • Typing (writing) a kids recipe book full of your kids favorite homemade foods (like to your eBook?)
  • Doing some kids yoga or exercise programs from a DVD / website. This will give them some great physical inputs to help increase their attention span at an upcoming meal.

In summary, technology use (ours and our children’s) is definitely part of our lives now. However, cleverly defining boundaries, making sure we focus on the developmental needs of our children and working in co-viewed content will help you feel less guilty when you flick the switch on.

I have a video event on my website available here presented by myself (SOS feeding therapy) and Dr Kristy Goodwin (Researcher and Author of “Raising Your Child in a Digital World”). 

Hope to see you there!

Simone

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