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  • Alice M. Gushue

How Does Screen Time Affect Children’s Development?


little girl sitting down and watching television

HOW DOES SCREEN TIME AFFECT CHILD DEVELOPMENT?


In today's digital era, screens have become an integral part of our lives, and for children that’s no exception. Whether it's smartphones, tablets, computers, or televisions, screens are everywhere, captivating the attention of young minds.


And let’s face it, letting your kid watch a movie or play a game on their tablet can be an easy way to capture their attention, keeping them content and occupied in challenging situations like long flights or car trips, or when you simply need to get some tasks done around the house.


If you’re a parent of young children, you’ve probably wondered how this screen use could affect child development.


With information coming out, like the recent Surgeon General’s advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health, you have reason to be concerned. The advisory warns that the mental well-being of children and teenagers is at risk due to the various ways they engage with and consume online content. In fact, that report found that if children and adolescents spend more than three hours daily on social media, they face twice the likelihood of experiencing mental health issues, like depression and anxiety. [2]


But what does it mean for babies, toddlers, and younger children who are too young to access social media but are still spending time on screens?

Child with tablet device on their lap touching the screen
Children who spend excessive time using screens show developmental delays in fine and gross motor skills as well as social emotional development

THE RISKS OF SCREEN USAGE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT


Well, according to child behavioral expert Dr. Jennifer Cross, the early childhood development stages are a period of rapid growth, where young children learn through exploration and imitation of adults. However, excessive screen time can hinder this crucial process, restricting their exposure to essential everyday activities needed for learning and leading to a narrowed perspective. Dr. Cross emphasizes that children who primarily focus on smartphones or tablets while walking with their parents miss out on valuable opportunities to understand the world, impacting their learning, social interactions, and language development. [2]


As parents, it is crucial to understand exactly how this excessive screen time can impact children's development. Let’s delve into the effects of screen time on brain development in children:

Mom with two young children who are laughing as toys bounce off of a stretched out sheet being flipped
Children who spend their time in front of screens miss opportunities to learn how interact with others in healthy ways

HUMAN INTERACTION: THE KEY TO HEALTHY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT


From the moment they are born, babies crave human interaction. The early years are a critical period for brain development, and human interaction plays a pivotal role in shaping neural pathways. When caregivers engage with infants, they provide a nurturing and responsive environment that fosters cognitive, emotional, and social growth. Through eye contact, touch, and vocalization, babies develop important skills such as language acquisition, emotional regulation, and the ability to form secure attachments. Unfortunately, excessive screen time can divert attention away from these essential interactions, potentially impeding the optimal development of a child's brain.



ATTENTION SPAN, CONCENTRATION, AND IMPULSE CONTROL


One of the most significant concerns associated with excessive screen time in toddlers and babies is its negative impact on attention span, concentration, and impulse control. Screens are designed to provide fast-paced and constantly changing stimuli, captivating young minds and making it difficult for them to focus on one task for an extended period. The passive nature of screen-based activities can contribute to shortened attention spans, making it challenging for children to engage in activities that require sustained focus, such as reading, problem-solving, or imaginative play. Moreover, the instant gratification provided by screens may hinder the development of impulse control, as children are accustomed to immediate responses and rewards.

young boy having a tantrum who is laying on a bed on his back with his hands in front of his face and his father is holding him trying to calm him down
Screen time meltdowns can be seen in children as young as 6 months old

REDUCING EMPATHY IN TODDLERS


Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is a crucial aspect of social development in children. Unfortunately, screen time has been linked to a reduction in empathy in toddlers. When children spend excessive time in front of screens, they miss out on valuable opportunities for face-to-face interactions, which play a significant role in fostering empathy. Screens often present a distorted version of reality, making it difficult for young children to understand and relate to genuine emotions and social cues. Additionally, the absence of non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions and body language, can hinder a child's ability to develop empathy and recognize the needs and emotions of others.



PHYSICAL HEALTH & DEVELOPMENT IN TODDLERS


Prolonged periods of sedentary behavior associated with screen time contribute to a more sedentary lifestyle overall, leading to a higher risk of obesity and related health issues. Insufficient physical activity due to excessive screen time can impact a child's motor skills development, coordination, and muscle strength.


Additionally, excessive exposure to screens can disrupt sleep patterns, as the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to sleep disturbances and potential long-term sleep problems. Furthermore, extended screen time may contribute to vision-related problems, such as digital eye strain, dry eyes, and nearsightedness. It is crucial to strike a balance and encourage active play, outdoor activities, and healthy screen time habits for young children to mitigate these negative physical effects and promote their overall well-being.

toddler in rainbows holding mother's hand who is helping him walk up a fallen log in a forest
Young children learn how to use their body through real-world experiences

HOW MUCH SCREEN TIME IS SAFE FOR TODDLERS AND CHILDREN?


For children between the ages 0 to 2 years old, experts recommend no screen time, other than video chatting, as the optimal approach. This is because infants and toddlers need real-world interactions and hands-on exploration for healthy development. Instead of relying on screens, parents are encouraged to engage in activities that promote cognitive, physical, and social development, such as reading books, singing, playing, and outdoor play. It is important to create a screen-free environment during these formative years to foster a strong foundation for learning and growth.


For children between the ages of 2 and 5, it is recommended to limit screen time to approximately one hour per day of educational and high-quality content. This can include age-appropriate programs, interactive apps, and supervised video chatting. It is important for parents to actively participate during screen time, engaging with their children and discussing the content to enhance the learning experience.


As children enter the age range of 6 to 10, it is advised to establish consistent limits on screen time that do not disrupt crucial activities like sleep, physical activity, and social interactions. The appropriate amount of screen time can vary depending on individual circumstances, but generally limiting screen time to 2 hours is a good rule of thumb. However, it is encouraged to prioritize a well-rounded development by promoting outdoor play, hobbies, reading, and social engagement. Creating screen-free zones and designated tech-free periods can help maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle, ensuring overall well-being for children within this age group.



CONCLUSION


While technology undoubtedly offers numerous advantages, it is important to acknowledge the negative impact of screen time on the development of toddlers and babies. Human interaction is the foundation for healthy brain development, and screen time can divert attention from these vital interactions.


Moreover, prolonged exposure to screens can hinder attention span, concentration, and impulse control, hindering a child's ability to engage in sustained activities.


Lastly, screens may undermine the development of empathy by limiting face-to-face interactions and distorting social cues. As caregivers and society at large, it is essential to strike a balance and provide young children with ample opportunities for real-world experiences that foster healthy growth and development.



FINDING A BALANCE WITH SAFE TECHNOLOGY FOR KIDS


When children turn the appropriate age to start engaging with technology, safely introducing them to the digital world is essential. Investing in technology that’s specifically designed and developed for children is a good way to avoid the risks that come along with technology use, such as exposure to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, online predators, and of course, excessive screen time.


Boy and girl using Soymomo tablet and watch

SoyMomo understands the challenges faced by parents in managing screen time for their children. Their smartwatch phones and anti-cyberbullying tablets provide practical solutions that combine the benefits of technology with responsible usage.


Here's how SoyMomo helps control excessive screen time:


Tablets & Phone With Parental Controls: SoyMomo smartwatch phones and tablets come equipped with robust parental controls. Parents can set daily usage limits, create schedules for screen time, and remotely control access to various apps and functions. This ensures that children have a healthy balance between screen time and other activities.


Phone Without Internet or Social Media Access: Unlike many other devices, SoyMomo smartwatch phones do not have internet or social media access. This eliminates the distractions and potential risks associated with unrestricted web browsing and social media usage, allowing children to focus on more productive and age-appropriate activities.


Phones That Promotes Outdoor Play & Physical Activity: SoyMomo encourages children to engage in physical activities by providing activity tracking on their smartwatch phones. By incorporating physical exercise into their routine, children can maintain a healthier lifestyle and reduce their sedentary screen time.


By utilizing these features, parents can ensure that their children's screen time is purposeful, controlled, and aligned with their overall development and well-being.

Remember, to avoid screen time for children under 2 years old. And when it comes time to introduce your kid to technology, moderation and responsible usage are key. With technology specifically designed for kids, parents can empower their children to make the most of technology while fostering healthy habits and ensuring a balanced lifestyle.




Works Cited:

  1. The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory, "Social Media and Youth Mental Health", U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Surgeon General, 2023, https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/priorities/youth-mental-health/social-media/index.html

  2. Cross MD,Jennifer F., "What does too much screen time do to children's brains?", Health Matters, https://healthmatters.nyp.org/what-does-too-much-screen-time-do-to-childrens-brains/






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