We live in a world where young children are immersed in environments saturated with an array of both old and new technology. The evolution of technology has altered the role of media in households throughout the USA. Even infants and toddlers are being exposed to increased amounts of screen time. As research struggles to keep up with the rapid pace of technology, developmental specialists are left wondering how screen time affects a young child’s brain development.
What is screen time?
Screen time refers to any time a child spends looking at an electronic screen. This includes playing video games, watching TV or video movies, and using computers, tablets, or phones.
Is screen time beneficial?
Research proves that children younger than 2 years need hand’s on exploration and social interaction with their primary caregivers to best develop their cognitive, motor, language, and social-emotional skills. Their young brains are just not complex enough to absorb the content of screen time even though they are attracted to it.
Evidence for benefits of screen time is still limited for children under 2 but we do know that adult interaction with the child during media use is extremely important at this age. The primary factor that facilitates toddlers learning from electronic media is parents watching with them and reteaching the content viewed. No screen will ever replace human interaction at this young age!
The American Academy of pediatrics (AAP) says that limited screen time is okay for children as young as 18 months, but recommends that it should be less than an hour a day of high quality digital media – and urges parents to co-view with the child. Not allowing screen time would even be better for the child, but reality often gets in the way of parent’s best intentions. The AAP says it is best to totally avoid screen time for children under18 months unless it is video chatting.
Too much screen time can be harmful to a child’s development. Some of the critical factors to keep in mind are as follow:
• High media (screen time) use has been associated with shorter attention spans, hyperactivity, ADHD, and aggressive behavior. Thus, screen time can affect the child’s social, emotional, and behavioral development.
• Researchers also have discovered that kids who start watching TV as toddlers may have a tougher time managing their emotions and comforting themselves when they are older.
• Even having a TV on in the background has been shown to be so distracting that it interferes with interactions between children and parents.
• Too much screen time contributes to child obesity and future weight gain because of limited movement while viewing. In fact, a recent study found that toddlers’ body mass index increased with every hour of screen time per week.
• Too much screen time can cause sleep issues. The American Association of Pediatrics warns against having screens in children’s bedrooms because they are linked to poor sleep quality. The light emitted from the screen devices may delay melatonin release and make it harder to fall asleep. Also - the content viewed could be over-stimulating making it hard to fall asleep.
• Screen time can easily become an unhealthy habit and habits are hard to break. The more that children use screens, the more they become dependent on them.
• Be careful about using screens as a way to keep children busy during errands, or as a tool to calm them down or distract them when they are bored or restless. It is so important for young children to learn how to manage their emotions. Giving them the electronic screen robs them of the opportunity to independently learn how to cope with their emotional discomfort.
• Also keep in mind - that heavy parent use of mobile devices is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions between parents and children.
In closing, I would like to remind parents that the first two years of your child’s life will go by quickly and they thrive through their interactions with you. Their interactions with you (not screen time) will best enhance optimal development!