Screen Time Caution

boy_looking_at_phone_screenshutterstock_51928348By Deirdre Imus-12-5-19
It’s nearly gift-giving season again, and as we approach this exciting yet overwhelming few weeks, now is a good time to carefully consider just what kind of presents you’ll bestow upon the children in your life. Because no matter how old – toddler or teen – young people are being exposed more than ever to devices that capture their attention, but probably not their imagination.

More than ever, kids are falling prey to the intoxicating allure of staring at a screen. Recent research from the National Institutes of Health found that, on average, daily time spent in front of a screen increased from 53 minutes at age 12 months to more than 150 minutes at three years. Screen habits begin early, and the same study indicated that 87 percent of children up to age five were exceeding the recommended amount of screen exposure for their age as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

This might not seem like breaking news. We don’t necessarily need scientific research to tell us that screens are all around, and we’re looking at them a lot more than we did decades ago. But we do need science to help us understand what starting at screens is doing to our brains, particularly the delicate and developing brains of young people.

Earlier this month, another new study offered some answers.  Researchers showed meaningful structural differences in the brains of pre-school (pre-school!) aged children that were related to their consumption of screen-based media. Specifically, children with more screen time had lower “structural integrity” of white matter in the parts of the brain that support language and other literacy skills; these children also scored lower on language and literacy tests.

The AAP recommendations on screen time are careful to note that while quantity of screen time is important, so is quality. Screens aren’t all bad (you’re looking at one right now, aren’t you?), but they have the potential to be. It matters what kids are watching, how, and with whom. Passively plopping a kid in front of a screen is a much different experience for them – and for you – than it is when you actively engage with them on the content.

Parents need to approach this kid tech era with a proactive, pro parent child stance. Spend time everyday talking with them and read to them ( especially in the very early years).

I don’t believe a baby, toddler or 5 year old needs a tablet or TV. Instead read, read, read, play, play, play. 

Screens aren’t going anywhere, so it’s crucial to figure out the best way for your family to responsibly use them. As The Mayo Clinic website notes, too much or poor quality screen time in childhood has also been linked to obesity, sleep and behavioral problems, loss of social skills, and violence.  However, they also offer strategies for safely incorporating screens into a child’s life, such as:



It’s important to model responsible screen time behavior.   Shoving a tablet, phone or TV in front of your infant or child immediately shuts them off from you, creating distance that seems like miles away, even though you’re sitting right next to them in the car or in the same house. You’ve lost them.  And the addiction begins.

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