Minimizing Screen Time During Early Childhood Development

With a generation of parents who find it difficult to remember a world in which finding the nearest coffee shop wasn’t just a quick search on your smartphone, it is no wonder that we may be unintentionally teaching our children unhealthy daily screen time habits.

Contrary to the hype of educational and learning apps and software that can be download on iPads, Smart TVs or smartphones, researchers found that children under the age of 18 months, seldom benefit from apps or digital programs. Instead, playing with toys and interacting with parents, siblings and family make children smarter, think and practice impulse control. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly cautions parents from allowing children under 18 months old to use a device without being accompanied by an adult. During early childhood, the brain is not developed enough to process information that comes from screens even though they may distract your little one for a few minutes so that you can do the dishes or enjoy a meal at a restaurant.

According to the AAP, “The skills young children need to learn for success in school (and life) such as impulse control, managing emotions, and creative, flexible thinking, are best learned through unstructured and social play with family and friends in the real world.” Replacing playtime and human interaction with screen time can actually cause behavioral problems for your child in the future.

Child development researchers found that the one thing that’s most important for a child to be successful in life is having self-control. Devices are known to decrease the amount of self-control a child develops. In the first three years of life, your child is learning how to think and the brain is developing at a very rapid pace. In fact, a child’s brain triples in size from birth to three years old!

Most pediatric physicians and medical researchers don’t expect parents to never allow their children to use devices. Instead, it is recommended to keep the use to a minimum and be intentional about how you allow your little one to interact with devices. In fact, studies show that allowing children to use video to communicate with a parent or family member may be beneficial to their brain development as long as a parent is co-viewing with them. Limited use of an iPad, smartphone or Smart TV is fine for young children, but ideally, parents should be co-viewing, teaching and learning with them as they are using these devices.

Pediatrician, a mother and executive committee member of the AAP, Wendy Sue Swanson, shared some tips on how to set rules for how and when children use devices such as smartphones, Smart TVs and iPads.

Quick screen time tips:

  1. Make it Interactive. If you would like to introduce your child to a device, co-view, teach and interact with them while using it.
  2. Limit the Time. When your child is old enough to hold and operate the device without you, (around 3- 4 years old), limit viewing time to less than one hour per day.
  3. High Quality Programming. Be intentional about which games, programs, and apps you allow your child to interact with on devices. Download the Common Sense Media app for suggestions on what is appropriate for your child’s age.
  4. Limit Distractions. When your child is finished with a game or program, turn off the device, Smart TV or smartphone to limit distractions for them and direct them back to play or task.
  5. Before Bedtime. When children have devices in their bedroom or use devices within one to two hours of bedtime, it could affect sleep.

It’s pretty unrealistic to believe that today’s modern parent can completely eliminate the use of devices by their children, but health professionals urge parents to create rules and guidelines and stick to them to ensure children learn and develop during childhood.

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