Two lovebirds: children and screen-time

Most people and not just young people are often addicted to their screens, whether their mobile phones, palmtops or laptops. This situation is becoming more rampant in social gatherings where people interact more with their phones than with each other. And most people rely on screens for their jobs and businesses, for communication, socializing, and even entertainment.

It is alarming that there is a high rate of adults who remain glued to their screens even while walking on the road or driving. But this situation is even worse in children, who spend several hours of the day playing video games, watching TV shows or even chatting with friends.

Some parents have cases of their children playing games while eating breakfast or texting friends during dinner time and staying all day in their rooms watching entertainment TV programs like Disney world or Nickelodeon.

Children are more affected by this growing trend as they are more susceptible to screen-time addiction during their early life stages. A 2018 pew research study found that 58% of children between the ages of 13-17 were concerned about the amount of time they spent online glued to their smartphones.

Screen-based technology has undoubtedly come to stay in the modern digital world, as today’s children grow up with unlimited access to electronic gadgets. They can’t imagine a world without smartphones and the internet.

Research findings: what we know so far

Several studies have found a significant impact of excessive screen-time on children’s brain and development.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019, the adverse health effects of excessive screen time can be massive, and screen time for children should be reduced to the barest minimum to avert those health risks. There is also the international recognition of what is called the gaming disorder by the WHO. Gaming disorder is identified as a disease in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases – ICD11.

Data from the National Institute of Health (NIH) report in 2018 indicates that children who spend over two hours a day on screen-time activities score lower language and thinking assessment results. And children who spend over 7 hours experience thinning of the cortex, which is the brain part used for reasoning and critical thinking.

Some researchers have investigated the correlation between screen-time and child development of over2000 children between the ages of 2 and 5. And their research found that high levels of screen-time delay child development.

Several studies indicate that early exposure to excessive screen-time in children impacts preschoolers’ development – but not in the right way. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), preschool-age kids shouldn’t have more than one hour of screen-time a day.

Ultimately, these research findings indicate that screen-time restricts child development as it narrows children’s focus and interests and limits learning and exploration.

Child development and screen-time: the good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good: For young children under the age of 3, development happens rapidly, and they learn by exploring their immediate environment. A developing mind is in the critical phase in the early years, especially under 3. For instance, language development rapidly expands in children between 1 to 3 years, and they learn a language faster while playfully engaging and interacting with adults.

Children indeed learn necessary skills and habits by imitating people and exploring their environment. But that is only one aspect of the whole equation. Children also learn subjects easier and faster with graphical representations or animations by watching educational games and programs.

The Bad: So, excessive screen time may inhibit children’s ability, not only to observe and learn but also to gain experience from their typical exciting everyday activities. By spending more time with their screens, children miss out on the elementary but essential opportunities they need to learn and practice motor, interpersonal and communication skills.

And these instances indicate that excessive screen-time can be detrimental to overall child development. Other vital aspects of a child’s life, such as sleep and study, maybe inhibited due to excessive screen-time. So, this means that lead to other health complications like addiction, insomnia and depression. And I tell you that this can be an awful situation for healthy cognitive, social and emotional development in children.

Some studies reveal that excessive screen-time correlated with some physical and mental health issues, like low diet, obesity and depression.

The Ugly: This ugly part is why one needs to be careful and strategic while handling children’s screen-time. Parents are often caught in the thin line between helping their kids become tech-literate and preventing screen-time addiction in a world literarily run by gadgets.

So, the ugly thing about screen-time is that it can be a good or bad thing for children, depending on the context and the degree of use.

The role of parents in managing their children’s screen-time

Some experts say that parents can be better positioned to be able teachers to their children than electronic devices. Parents need to create enough face-to-face time with their children and spend time with them.

Children under the age of 5 need to explore their environment by moving around, building curiosity, and spending time with friends and family. So, parents need to balance their children’s screen-time with other family or group activities. You may also want to restrict the use of gadgets during bedtime, mealtime and family discussions.

Parents could help their children manage screen-time by setting time limits and daily expectations during the early stages.  It is harder to stop excessive screen-time habits in children when it’s already started. So, this approach will quickly help develop good screen-time habits in children early on.

The AAP recommends limiting screen-time for preschool children between ages 2 to 5 to just one hour a day. And preferably restrict such sessions to high-quality programs like Sesame Street and National Geographic Kids. You should also ensure that your children are limited to watching only age-appropriate content.

Also, you can have screen-time sessions together with your children. You can ask questions, explain things they don’t understand and make exciting comments to ensure that they make the best out of the screen-time session.

Finally, I’m sure you’ve heard the adage that charity begins at home. You may want to ensure that you also limit your own screen time when you are around your kids. You are the first point of personal contact, and they tend to imitate and learn from you primarily.

Healthy development is the number one priority for your kids.

In conclusion, there is enough evidence to support the correlation between child development and screen-time. So, ensure that you manage the time your children spend in front of their screens.

Parents, how are you handling the screen-time of your kids?

Let us know in the comments section J

By Sanjeev

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