Lawmakers look to cut down on “screen time” for infants in daycare

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OKLAHOMA CITY - To promote a healthier lifestyle, a lawmaker wants kids to separate from electronic devices while at licensed daycare facilities.

Senate Bill 806, which passed the full senate Tuesday, would require the childcare centers to follow nutrition standards and provide at least an hour for moderate and vigorous physical activity, including time in prone position for infants less than 6 months of age.

But, Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman) also proposes eliminating "screen time" for children less than 2 years old.

That includes television, movies, cell phones, video games, computers and other digital services.

"By that, we hope to promote physical activity throughout the day, frankly, so you don't have daycares taking kids, plopping them in front of the television and giving them a sugar drink and having them sit there all day," he said. "The crux is to avoid a sedentary situation throughout the day and to promote a more active environment in our daycares."

One-in-three Oklahoma children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are exceptions in the bill for electronics that involve physical activity or help with homework.

E-readers, smart boards and tablets are also permitted as long as they are used for educational activities.

Technology that helps kids with disabilities is also exempt from the bill, which permits "occasional special activities" like watching a movie.

"It's not a draconian absolute no TV but more of a guideline to help steer kids to a more active day as opposed to just sitting around," Sparks said. "There's some concern about a government overreach into the daily aspects of this, but I think it's important to remember that these are licensed daycares."

Some of the licensed facilities, like the Primrose School of NW Oklahoma City, already enforce screen time bans - even going a step further than the bill would.

"Under the age of 3, we don't allow technology in the building," said Sarah Albahadily, director of the school. "There are so many studies out there that talk about links to obesity, depression, parts of their sleeping patterns and things like that. Parents actually love that we don't have TVs, screens, things like that in the classroom."

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Older students at the school do use tablets, but only for learning purposes, Albahadily said.

"It's literally just applications that match our curriculum," she said. "There are some families that have just sort of succumbed to their children using iPhones or something like that. Luckily, in a school setting, the kids have just learned that that's not the norm and, because that's not the norm, we don't have the tears over not being able to use the iPad or watch TV."

Instead, Albahadily said, the school leaves it to the parents to decide when it's best for their kids to use devices.

"And, then, you don't have situations where, instead of teachers watching kids, they're not just sitting them in front of the TV and kind of ignoring them," she said. "They definitely need this interactive play."

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