The increasing prevalence of technology in our daily lives has led to a rise in screen time for children. From educational games to social media, screens have become an integral part of children's lives. However, experts are now sounding the alarm about the dangers of excessive screen time for young children. While screens can offer a range of benefits, they can also hinder development in other areas. Therefore, it's important to balance screen time with other activities for young children.
Even if you don't agree with the imposed time restrictions, here are some helpful tips for finding a balance. Parents should use their best judgement and decide what is right for their individual families and to maintain peace of mind. Educational institutions are gradually transitioning to digital technologies like tablets as the world is heading towards a data-driven era. Manual tools have become obsolete and screens are what defines the current and upcoming generations.
While screens can offer many benefits to children, excessive screen time can have negative effects on their physical, social, and emotional well-being. Here are some of the potential negative effects of too much screen time in children:
- Obesity: Spending too much time in front of screens can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which in turn can contribute to obesity and other health problems. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children who spent more time watching TV or using computers had a higher risk of developing obesity.
- Poor sleep: Screen time can interfere with a child's sleep, particularly if they are using screens before bedtime. The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting enough sleep overall.
- Delayed language development: Research has shown that excessive screen time can delay language development in young children. This may be because screen time often involves passive consumption of content, rather than active engagement with language.
- Social isolation: Spending too much time in front of screens can lead to social isolation and a lack of face-to-face social interaction. This can affect a child's ability to develop social skills, form friendships, and understand social cues.
- Behavioral problems: Excessive screen time has been linked to a higher risk of behavioral problems such as ADHD, aggression, and poor impulse control. This may be because screens can overstimulate the brain and disrupt normal development.
- Addiction: Some children may become addicted to screens, particularly if they are using screens as a way to cope with stress or anxiety. Screen addiction can lead to a range of negative effects, including poor academic performance, social isolation, and mental health problems.
So as parents and caregivers, what can we do?
Set clear limits on screen time
As parents and caregivers, it's essential to set limits on children's screen time. With the increasing availability of digital media, children can be exposed to a vast array of content that may not be appropriate for their age. Setting clear limits on screen time can help protect children from potential dangers associated with too much exposure to digital media, as well as ensure they are getting enough physical activity and time for creative pursuits. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 18 months should not be exposed to screens at all, except for video chatting. Children aged 18 to 24 months should only have access to high-quality programming, and for no more than one hour per day. For children aged 2 to 5 years, screen time should be limited to one hour per day of high-quality programming.
Encourage physical activity
Physical activity is an essential part of healthy growth and development for young children. Regular physical activity can help them build strong muscles, bones, and joints, as well as improve their coordination, balance, and flexibility. Furthermore, it can increase their self-confidence and concentration levels while reducing stress. With plenty of opportunities for physical activity like running, jumping, climbing and playing available to young children today, parents can help ensure that their kids get the health benefits they need to lead a healthy life. Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities for outdoor play, and consider enrolling them in organized activities such as gymnastics or soccer.
Promote imaginative play
Imaginative play is an essential tool for childhood development. It helps children foster their social skills, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. Through creative play, children can explore different scenarios and learn how to interact with others in a safe and fun way. Parents can encourage their little ones to engage in imaginative play by providing them with open-ended toys such as blocks or dolls, encouraging them to use their own imagination to come up with stories or activities and allowing them the freedom to express themselves without judgement.
Provide opportunities for social interaction
Social interaction is an essential part of growing up, and it's important to encourage your child to interact with other children. It helps them develop important skills such as communication, cooperation, and empathy while also providing them with opportunities to make friends and explore the world around them. Socializing with others encourages creativity, problem-solving skills and resilience, all of which are important for children's development.
Make time for reading
Reading is one of the most important activities for young children. It is a fundamental part of their learning and development, helping them to acquire language skills, build imagination and foster a love of learning. Ensuring your child has access to age-appropriate books and taking the time to read with them are essential steps in nurturing their literacy skills.
Encourage creative activities
Creative activities such as drawing, painting, and crafting can be a powerful tool for children's development. Not only do they help to foster imagination and creativity, but they also help to develop essential fine motor skills. By encouraging your child to engage in these activities, you can provide them with a safe and creative space where they can explore their creativity and express themselves in unique ways. With the right guidance and resources, these activities can be an invaluable asset for children’s development.
Model healthy screen habits
As a parent, it is essential to model healthy screen habits for your children. It is important to be mindful of the amount of time you are spending on screens when you are around your child, and instead engage in activities such as reading, playing games, or simply talking. Setting an example by limiting your own screen time can help children learn better habits from an early age.
- Set boundaries: Parents and caregivers can set boundaries on their own screen time use, such as designating certain times of day or areas of the home where screens are off-limits. This shows children that screens are not the only form of entertainment or communication, and that it's important to have other activities and interactions in their lives.
- Avoid distractions: When spending time with children, parents and caregivers should avoid using screens as a distraction or to pass the time. This sends the message that screens are not a substitute for quality time and engagement with others.
- Use screens intentionally: Parents and caregivers can model intentional screen use by using screens for specific purposes, such as to connect with friends or family, complete work or school assignments, or engage in a favorite hobby or activity. This shows children that screens can be a tool for positive activities and experiences.
- Demonstrate healthy habits: Parents and caregivers can demonstrate healthy habits such as taking breaks from screens, avoiding screens before bedtime, and practicing good posture when using screens. This sends the message that screens should be used in moderation and in a way that promotes physical and mental well-being.
- Foster conversation: Parents and caregivers can use screen time as an opportunity to engage in conversation with children about what they are watching or playing. This encourages critical thinking and helps children learn to evaluate media content.
Balancing screen time with other activities is important for young children's development. By setting clear limits on screen time, encouraging physical activity and imaginative play, providing opportunities for social interaction, making time for reading, encouraging creative activities, and modeling healthy screen habits, you can help your child grow into a healthy, well-rounded individual.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). Media and Young Minds. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162591. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-2591.
Pate, R. R., O'Neill, J. R., & Brown, W. H. (2016). Physical activity and health in children younger than 6 years: A systematic review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 48(6), 1197-1222. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000901.
Bergen, D., & Coscia, J. (2018). Pretend play, creativity, and emotion regulation in children. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/positive-parenting-3-6/201804/pretend-play-creativity-and-emotion-regulation-in-children.
National Institute for Literacy. (2010). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
Fisch, S. M. (2004). Children's learning from educational television: Sesame Street and beyond. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC: Author.
Tremblay, M. S., LeBlanc, A. G., Kho, M. E., Saunders, T. J., Larouche, R., Colley, R. C., … & Gorber, S. C. (2011). Systematic review of sedentary behaviour and health indicators in school-aged children and youth. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8(1), 98. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-8-98
Falbe, J., Davison, K. K., Franckle, R. L., Ganter, C., Gortmaker, S. L., Smith, L., & Land, T. (2015). Sleep duration, restfulness, and screens in the sleep environment. Pediatrics, 135(2), e367-e375. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-2306
Chonchaiya, W., & Pruksananonda, C. (2008). Television viewing associates with delayed language development. Acta paediatrica, 97(7), 977-982. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1651-2227.2008.00831.x
McHale, S. M., Dotterer, A. M., Kim, J. Y., & Crouter, A. C. (2009). The effect of after-school activities on the development of low-income children. Developmental Psychology, 45(5), 1545–1553. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015362
Nikken, P., & Schols, M. (2015). How and why parents guide the media use of young children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(11), 3423-3435. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-015-0181-3
Gentile, D. A., Reimer, R. A., Nathanson, A. I., Walsh, D. A., & Eisenmann, J. C. (2014). Protective effects of parental monitoring of children's media use: a prospective study. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(5), 479-484. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.5488