How much screen time should my child have?
I get asked this question on a near daily basis, screens are everywhere, at home, at nursery, schools and in your hand. As an adult I’m never too far from my phone and probably check it too much, as I'm sure many of you can relate. Research around the impact of technology such as phones, tablets and TV on child development has started to emerge among recent years, this is what it shows so far.
Impact on cognition and language:
High exposure to background TV has been found to impact language use,
attention, cognitive development and planning skills in children younger than 5. Children who started watching television at under 12 months of age and watched television for more than 2 hours a day were approximately six times more likely to have language delays.
Some studies associate prolonged TV viewing with lower cognitive abilities, especially related to short-term memory, early reading and math skills and language development. Fast-paced or violent content can negatively impact executive function. However, there have been studies around the use of physical use of technology e.g. Nintendo Wii Consoles. Children’s screen time does not have to be passive; digital media use can encourage and complement physical activity and social interaction. There are also some indications around supporting planning skills and improving attention skills in older children.
Play, creativity and technology:
There has been some research around the impact on the type of play skills required when playing games on a tablet/phone. “In real life” children will often request to play with another person for interactive, pretend or imaginary play. However when a tablet/phone is used to play a game as part of an app – you don’t need another person, you don’t need to communicate and therefore don’t have the opportunity to develop creativity and imagination. Play skills, creativity and imagination are crucial for developing communication and interaction skills.
Impact on sleep:
As we know, little ones need a lot of sleep in order to support their development. Screen time can impact on how much sleep they are getting. Often I am told that toddlers are not sleeping, when we discuss bedtime routines, I am frequently told that children are watching nursery rhymes on youtube or cbeebies before bed. The amount of time spent viewing screens before bedtime is associated with an increase in sleep problems for children. Any electronic device in a bedroom is associated with fewer minutes of sleep per night.
So what can you do?
Minimize screen time:
• Screen time for children younger than 2 years is not recommended.
• Ensure that sedentary screen time is not a routine part of child care for children
• Maintain daily ‘screen-free’ times, especially for family meals and book-sharing.
• Avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime
As a family, be mindful about the use of screens:
• Remember: too much screen time means lost opportunities for teaching and learning.
• Be reassured that there is no evidence to support introducing technology at an early age.
• Be present and engaged when screens are used and, whenever possible, co-view with children.
• Be aware of content and prioritize educational, age-appropriate and interactive programming.
Adults should model healthy screen use:
• Choose healthy alternatives, such as reading, outdoor play and creative, hands-on activities.
• Turn off their devices at home during family time.
• Turn off screens when not in use and avoid background TV.