We live in a digital age with so much information and resources readily available to educate us and entertain us. Most households are equipped with televisions, smartphones, tablets, and computers. Children often are engaging with this technology before they learn to walk and talk. But, is all of this technology benefiting us or hurting us?
A recent study conducted by TARGet Kids!, a practice-based research network in Toronto found that the more handheld screen time a child's parent reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech. Further they found that for each 30-minute increase of screen time from a reported 28-minute baseline in handheld screen time, that there was a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay.
It gets worse, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center published an article in JAMA Pediatrics showing evidence that brain structures may be altered in children who use high rates of screen time. Researchers looked at brain MRIs in 47 preschoolers and found that screen time over the AAP's recommendations was associated with differences in brain structure in areas related to language and literacy development.
So, how much time is too much time? The following guidelines are provided by the American Association of Pediatricians:
Avoid screen time for children 18 months and younger, unless using it for video chatting.
For children 18mo-24mo. introduce quality programming such as PBS Kids.
For children 2-5 years limit to 1 hour per day.
For children 6 years and up, limit media use & device type, as well as ensure that it does not interfere with physical activity or sleep.
Making the Most Out of Screen Time
Let’s face it, technology is a natural part of our daily lives just like eating and breathing. We use technology to pass the time, to stay connected with others, to research, to work and learn. There are a few things that you can do however to limit and make the most out of screen time to enhance your child’s development.
● Be a Good Model: Children learn by watching. Consider when, where and how much you are engaging with technology. Eliminate background TV whenever possible.
● Co-Engage: Screen time does not have to be alone time. Interact with your child when they are on media through using apps that include music, movement or stories. Co-viewing can encourage social interaction and build relationships.
● Select Quality Apps: Not all apps are created equal. High quality, learning-based programs and games should always be chosen over lower-quality options.
● Set Time Limits: Nothing can replace the benefits of face to face interaction. It is important to make an effort to spend time and socialize together and promote activities like playing outdoors or participating in athletics.
● Consider Media Free Time & Zones: Create tech-free zones such as the dinner table. Discourage media entertainment during homework time. Set daily or weekly limits and consider a media free night once a week. Require children to charge their devices outside of their bedroom at night.
We still don’t have all the details on how much screen time affects a child’s overall development, but we do know that it has been linked to language delay, literacy development, childhood obesity, irregular sleep patterns, attention and behavior problems, as well as social skill development. While it may be unrealistic to refrain from all sources of media in our day to day lives, being mindful of the types and frequency while prioritizing quality face-to-face interaction is the best way to help your child learn and grow.