What Parents Should Know About Screen Time and Child Development

girl playing games on tabletMost of us are aware that staring at a screen all day – whether it’s attached to a TV, smartphone, tablet, or some other device – isn’t healthy for people of any age, especially young children. However, along with the rising popularity of smartphones and other devices, the amount of time kids under 2 spend in front of screens each day has increased, climbing from 1.32 hours on average in 1997 to 3.05 hours in 2014, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

For toddlers who are still learning how to communicate, socialize and interact with the world, it makes sense that spending more time bonding with a TV or smartphone screen than with their caregivers can have a significant impact on their development. However, considering that it’s basically impossible to avoid screens altogether in the modern world, how can parents find balance and ensure their kids have a healthy relationship with TVs, smartphones, and other electronic devices?

If you’re the parent or caregiver of a young child seeking guidance on how to handle screen time, here’s some essential information and advice that you’ll hopefully find helpful.

How Screen Time Affects Young Brains
For children under the age of 2, social interaction with caregivers and hands-on exploration of the world around them is crucial for the development of social, motor, cognitive and language skills, according to research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). As a result, too much media use and screen time can interfere with the normal development of those skills.

Excessive screen time and/or exposure to inappropriate (i.e., violent) media at a young age is associated with the following health issues, among others, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Even if you ensure that your child only watches and interacts with educational videos and games, kids younger than 2 years of age learn better from live presentations than passive viewing, the Mayo Clinic states. Screens can’t replace time with caregivers and hands-on, real-life learning for toddlers.

What You Can Do to Limit the Negative Effects of Screen Time  
The AAP has published health and safety guidelines for parents raising children in an increasingly digital world. Following this advice will reduce the risk that your child will have issues related to time spent in front of the TV, tablets, smartphones and other screens.

1. Keep very young children away from digital media. Aside from video chatting, the AAP recommends zero screen time for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months. Once they reach the age range of 2 to 5, kids should be limited to one hour per day of high-quality programming.

2. Establish unplugged places in your household. Teach your kids to put electronics away during meals, in their bedrooms and at social gatherings. This will help them develop social skills, as well as healthy eating and sleeping habits.

3. Make screen time a group activity. When your children are in front of a screen, make sure they aren’t viewing alone. Co-viewing and co-playing while they watch videos or play games promotes bonding and learning.

4. Don’t use screens as your go-to soothing method. While videos or games can quiet kids down quickly, it’s important for them to learn to cope with their feelings and calm down using other methods, such as taking deep breaths and talking about what they’re dealing with.    

5. Remember that your kids learn by watching you. If you’re always glued to your smartphone, that sets a bad example for your children. Model healthy behavior by limiting your own screen time and making time to hug, play and otherwise interact with your children.

If you’d like to learn more about healthy childhood development, please contact our team of pediatric professionals. Our pediatric therapists deliver comprehensive and compassionate care to improve the lives of children of all ages one step at a time. Find out more about our services by calling 847-707-6744 or emailing info@littlestepspt.com.

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