Considering the current climate of the ever-increasing lure of gadgets and screens, and our own attraction to screens via smart phones, pads, computers, laptops, games, as well as the social media phenomena that surrounds us, I believe it timely and important to discuss.
We all know that technology is here to stay, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “more than 30% of American children are introduced to mobile devices while they are still wearing diapers, and almost 75% of teenagers have smartphones.” These are high statistics and are guaranteed to grow as time passes.
Just recently the World Health Organization (WHO) weighed in on the screen dilemma and issued a new set of guidelines for children and screen time. (NYTIMES April 24, 2019) Their recommendation is that infants under one year should not be exposed to electronic screens, and that children between the ages of 2 and 4 should not have more than one hour of “sedentary screen time” each day. The bottom line here is that eliminating and limiting screen time under the age of 5 will result in healthier adults. We know that exercise and sleep play an important role too in this healthy outcome, and for now I am addressing the screen dilemma.
If we examine our own screen time habits it should come as no surprise that new guidelines are recommended. Our phones and pads are constantly at hand and live with us almost 24 hours a day. They interrupt our own conversation, our work, our driving, our sleep, and our family time. Let’s think about that in terms of young children’s screen time exposure. Studies already show that screen time has negative effects on brain development and language acquisition. The first three years of life are most important to a child’s brain development and the impact of overstimulating screens, movement, colors, and noise can impact the normal development of the brain; the more exposure to rapid stimulation such as this, the greater the desire to have it.
At our school we do not have screens in our classrooms for our younger population. They already have a plethora of hands-on activities, social interactions, and engage in real life play daily. Our Kindergarten students are exposed to interactive work with a smart board as part of their curriculum, they learn how to keyboard, and they use an iPad or laptop to do research and apply learned skills. We believe this exposure is both age and time appropriate.
However, because of the growing technology phenomena parents think their children may be left behind if they do not learn at an early age. Therefore, it is reasonable for parents to question the use of technology in our school and in their homes. One thing you can be sure of, young people catch onto technology as fast as it is put into play, and thus we know they will never be left behind on the technology end. What we must keep in mind is that for young children real learning comes from two-way human interactions.
As children grow and the exposure and draw become more intense, keeping them away from screens becomes more challenging. What can parents do to navigate this ever-changing complex journey?
Here are some suggestions:
- When you allow screen time make sure you have a plan that will work for your family
- As with most of your expectations set limits, children seek them and work best when they have them
- Know what your child is watching or games he is playing; do your own research on what is appropriate for your child’s age use a media rating system to help: (www.commonsensemedia.org)
- Be present and engage with children during their screen time, remember two-way conversations are vital for language development
- Keep quality versus quantity in mind
- Do not allow screen time within one hour of bedtime, screens should not be in your child’s bedroom, screens can interfere with sleep
- Be a role model, limit your own use, especially around your children
- Screen time can be a lost opportunity for real time learning
- Encourage play without screens; help your children choose healthier play options, walking, hiking, gardening
- Engage your children in other ways, reading together,
playing board games, doing puzzles
- Screen time should not be used to calm or distract a child, children need to learn to self sooth
- Turn off all devices during meal times and turn off screens when no one is watching them
Technology is unavoidable and part of everyday life, but like the old adages, “everything in moderation” and “less is more” should help.
For more information on the WHO’s recent recommendations on screen time go to