These days, screens surround us! Children seem particularly drawn to screens and it can be tempting to allow our little ones free access to entertain themselves with phones and tablets. However, research has shown that children do not always learn best from their screens. Certainly, screens can pull children away from other critical learning opportunities. Interacting with others during play, simple routines, and daily interactions is a safer source of learning for children and their development. When raising a young child, it is hard to know what encourages healthy development. How much screen time is too much? What, if any, is considered a “healthy” amount of screen time?
First, let’s define the term. “Screen time” refers to any time that a child spends with a screen in front of them, such as a smartphone, tablet, TV, computer, or video game. Despite new technology, children ultimately learn to communicate through interactions with others. These interactions may involve playing with other children or engaging with adults as they carry out everyday tasks such as washing dishes or making dinner. Face-to-face human interactions are a vital part of development. Engaging in natural exchanges fosters language, cognitive and social development.
Screen Time and Child Development
The first few years of a child’s life are crucial for language development. This is when they are most receptive to learning and building communication pathways. Excess screen time means children are missing out on learning from human interactions, learning how to filter information from the environment, and learning to engage in play. Every time an adult interacts with a child, the child is taking in words, gestures, facial expressions, etc., and learning how they are used. This learning doesn’t necessarily happen with an electronic device!
According to The Hanen Centre, a leading organization focusing on language development and parent education, the following effects may occur from overexposure to screen time:
• Overall Health – in children 3 years and younger, television viewing has been associated with irregular sleep schedules and poor sleep habits. A poor sleep schedule can affect behavior, mood, and a child’s ability to concentrate for short or extended periods of time.
• Language Development – Multiple studies have suggested that an increase in screen time may result in an increased risk for delayed language development. Specifically, one study revealed that children who watched TV for more than 2 hours per day and who started watching TV before 12 months of age were about 6 times more likely to present with a language delay. A similar study found that for children between 8-16 months of age, each hour per day spent viewing baby DVDs and videos was associated with a significant decrease on an assessment of vocabulary development.
• Literacy – An increase or overexposure of screen time can lead to less time spent reading books by both the child and caregiver. Studies have shown that children in households with high media use are less likely to be able to read compared to peers in households with lower media use.
How much is too much?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, Screen Time and Children) uses the following as a guideline to manage a child’s screen time:
• For children younger than 18 months, use of screen media other than videochatting should be discouraged.
• Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided.
• For children older than 2 years, media limits are very appropriate. Limit screen use to no more than 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming. Co-view or co-play with your children, and find other activities to do together that are healthy for the body and mind (e.g., reading, teaching, talking, and playing together).
Tips for creating a healthy technology environment:
• Eliminate Unnecessary Exposure – It is important to turn off all screens during family meal times, outings, play time, etc. These are great opportunities to not only limit screen time, but to encourage communication and interaction with others.
• Provide Models – Talk about what you are doing! Everyday tasks are important learning opportunities for children. Narrating your daily activities as they happen will help facilitate language growth and understanding, all while providing appropriate models and routines for your child.
• Set Boundaries – Limit screen time. Tablets, TVs, and other electronic devices are typically equipped with timers or customizable restrictions (parental controls, guided access, etc.) that can help limit the amount of exposure a child is allotted when it comes to screen time. If you are unsure on how to set up these boundaries, using something simple like a timer or countdown method to limit and reduce screen time.
• Provide Quality Content – If screen time is a must, utilize educational apps or shows that encourage language growth, problem-solving, and socialization skills.
Technology can be extremely informative and valuable, but these benefits are mainly seen when used appropriately, especially with young and developing minds. It may not be easy to eliminate screen time or to change up a daily routine of screen use. However, taking steps to reduce use and to fade dependence on screens is essential for your child’s growth and development. Implementing small changes as you go will make a tremendous difference and will the worth the effort. Let’s strive to create a healthy and safe learning environment for our precious children!
American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines retrieved from: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Where-We-Stand-TVViewing-Time.aspx
The Hanen Centre. (n.d.). Infants and Toddlers “Unplugged”: New Recommendations about Media Use from the American Academy of Pediatrics” http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Unplugged–New-recommendations-aboutMedia-Use-fro.aspx
By: Elizabeth Breaux, MCD, CF-SLP & Erin McCleary, MA, CF-SLP