We live in a world fuelled by technology, screens, phones and devices we wouldn’t have thought imaginable a decade ago. Technology is changing at an alarming rate, and so is the way the we communicate with our peers, work colleagues, family and even children. Screen time and kids will forever be a hot topic on the table. This is because the children of today are growing up in a very different environment than that of their parents or grandparents. They are growing up in a world filled with screens and the rapid sharing of information in all sorts of ways. There are undoubtedly positive things about having so much information instantly accessible at our fingertips. That said what are the implications for our children’s learning and development and the use of screens?
Some Scary Statistics
- It is now known that the earlier we introduce screens to our kids, the more it will affect the development of their brain. It’s scary when you think about it in this way, because as our children grow up they are then more likely to struggle with an addiction to screens.
- A recent study from the American Association of Paediatrics revealed that toddlers who were exposed to more handheld screen time were more likely to have delayed expressive language skills.
- A second study from American Association of Paediatrics revealed that :
- 90% of children under two years of age watch some type of electronic media. Children under 2 watch an average of 1-2 hours of television each day.
- 33% of children had a television in their bedroom by age 3
- 39% of parents of young children reported that the television is on in their homes constantly (for more than 6 hours).
5 Great Reasons To Limit Your Child’s Screen Time
1. Developing your child’s social skills
Communication is a two way street. Research shows that a child’s brain develops rapidly in the early years . We also know that young children learn best from interacting with people and not screens. It is only through real life conversation, that children learn the subtle rules of social conversation. Things like making eye contact, using and understanding humour, introducing a new topic and knowing how to keep a conversation partners attention.
2. Children learn best from face to face interactions
A child’s vocabulary growth is directly related to the amount of time we as parents spend speaking to them. Having face to face conversations and playtime with children are some of the best ways of supporting their language development. Play time with a parent or another sibling encourages a child to think creatively, actively problem solve and actually accomplish activities as opposed to passively watching. 75% of top selling infant programmes claim to be educational. However there isn’t actually any evidence that media for children under the age of 2 is beneficial. Children over this age can indeed learn from screens but at a much slower rate than face to face interaction. So don’t underestimate just how important you are when it comes to your child’s learning and development!
3. Reducing the risk of decreased activity levels & childhood obesity
An increase in screen time is directly linked to a decrease in activity levels in our children. By reducing your child’s screen time and establishing good screen time habits you can lower their risk of obesity later in life.
4. Developing your child’s interests and skills in other activities
Like adults, kids only have so many hours in the day. Limiting screen time to give your child the opportunity to develop skills in other areas is a no brainer. Maybe you have a budding artist on your hands, a potential athlete, a musician? By limiting screen time, we give our kids the opportunity to explore other activities and skills which may otherwise not get a look in.
5. Reducing your child’s risk of developing sleep difficulties
Poor sleep habits can affect a child’s mood and behaviour as well as their concentration. Children who have difficulty sleeping will inevitably find it hard to listen and learn during the day. Guidelines now suggest not watching TV or screens in the hour before bed, and that bedrooms should be kept as screen free zones – even for older children.
How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
I get asked this question so often, and people are usually a little shocked to hear the response. The Irish Association of Speech & Language Therapists and American Association of Paediatrics have very similar guidelines:
- For children under 18 months: Avoid screen time (except video-chatting).
- For children 18-24 months: no more than a half an hour per day of screen time alongside an adult. Try to avoid solo screen use in this age group.
- Children 3-5 years: an hour of screen time per day.
- For children over the age of 6: 2 hours or less of sedentary screen time daily.
What Can We Do As Parents?
Taking all of this information on board, we also need to be realistic. Screens, smartphones, TV’s and tablets are inevitably going to be part of our kid’s lives at some point or other. So as parents, what can we do to support our children’s development alongside the use of screens:
- Lead by example. As parents we have a responsibility to put our own phones/tablets down and switch off the TV playing in the background. Our children are very tuned in to our habits, and what they see they will aspire to imitate. Create ‘Screen Free’ times throughout the day, where you leave your device in a different room.
- When watching screens with your children, choose high quality content gauged at your child’s age. This means programmes or videos with appropriate language and learning opportunities.
- Watching videos with your child makes using screens less of a passive, solitary activity. Screens can be used as a way to start conversations and share in the moment.
- Talk with your child while watching videos. Maybe asking questions about what’s going on. Or relating what’s going on in the video to real life situations and everyday experiences.
- Don’t feel pressured to use screens with your child as you fear they will be left behind. Children are incredibly quick and adaptable when it comes to learning new skills.