Screen time, healthy limits for you and your little one
It’s sometimes easy to give your child the iPad when you’re in the middle of cooking dinner to entertain them and keep them busy. Sometimes we realize that our 11 year old has been upstairs on the laptop for the last few hours and you’re wondering if they’re really doing their homework. Screen time for our children – good or bad? But more importantly, what are the healthy limits?
Becoming an ever increasing concern for parents in the emerging digital era, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has set the guidelines for screen time at ‘no more than one hour per day of high quality programs,’ for children between the ages of two to five. Under two and the AAP are recommending ‘unplugged playtime,’ and if you’re child is over five you should be strict about placing ‘consistent limits’ on the time spent in front of a screen.
So why do these limits exist?
A large scale study conducted in Canada found that longer screen time was statistically associated with a poorer performance on developmental screening test. The study asked mothers to complete questionnaires about their children’s screen time and their ongoing development from age two to five.
The children were then tested on their communication, motor, problem solving and social skills. Researchers concluded that the more screen time, the less developed the child; acting as the basis for the current AAP guidelines.
There are a number of reasons why this may occur, for a developing mind the bright LED ‘blue’ lights and over-stimulating nature of digital technology may be delaying natural cognitive development. Another reason may be routed in the increased sedentary behavior associated with screen time; or perhaps it’s because the children are missing opportunities for creative real-life learning because they’re immersed in a game.
Often as parents, it’s easy to manage or prevent bad behavior by offering a screen rather than engaging with our children. In fact, around 72 percent of parents report that their children have more than two hours of screen time per day. This doesn’t make us bad parents, it makes us human, using the resources we have available to us to make our lives a little easier. But it’s not all bad; technology can also be used as a tool for learning and engaging.
Using a screen to connect with family members on Skype or FaceTime can help children feel connected with their wider family and engage in beneficial social interactions. This could be used as a basis for a real-life game, or encouraging the child to write a letter or draw a picture to that relative or friend.
There are plenty of apps and websites that use games and technology to promote learning and creative thinking. Some ‘brain games’ for children practice non-verbal or verbal reasoning, to actually improve a child’s cognitive development. Other apps may encourage children to think creatively, drawing pictures or solving puzzles. YouTube is a great source for children, providing hours of content specifically designed to help your children learn from home, for free.
When it comes to screen time for your little ones – less is better. Children need to be exploring the real world, engaging with their peers, discovering what their interests are and staying physically active. However, if you do find yourself needing to rely on screens for your children, use digital channels that encourage learning.