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The Right Dose of Screen Time for Young Children

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If you’re like most parents whose childhoods were mostly spent outdoors in the yard, at playgrounds or parks playing with siblings, cousins and neighborhood friends from the time you were old enough to walk, the idea of exposing your own children to more technology than you grew up with early on may be something that you are not necessarily comfortable with. 

Perhaps you and your spouse have a difference of opinion on how soon is too soon and how much is too much when it comes to screen time. But the reality is that it is an important conversation to have because we do have more technology today than we did when we were children. 

That is why we want to cover a solid guideline on allowing children to experience screen time. But before we dive into that, we think it is important to briefly talk about the problems with screens when left unchecked. 

What Too Much Screen Time is Linked To

You may have heard a variation of the saying, “Too much of anything is bad.” Well, for the most part, that rings true. It is especially true when it comes to screen time.  

In fact, research has shown that regular exposure to poor-quality programming has been linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Inconsistent sleep schedules and insufficient sleep
  • Behavior problems including violence
  • Delays in language and social skills development
  • Attention problems
  • Less learning time

Unstructured playtime, on the other hand, has been determined to be more enriching for a young child’s developing brain than electronic media. The reality is that children under the age of 2 are more likely to learn when interacting and playing with parents, siblings, and other children and adults. If you have a baby, you have noticed that they seem to examine your face and especially your mouth when you speak. They even “talk” back when they are able to “coo.” They also love peek-a-boo. 

While there is still not any specific guidance for screen time among babies and toddlers from institutions in the UK like National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as of yet, they do recommend a limit of two hours per day for all children. The UK’s Chief Medical Officer even suggests that there be a ‘precautionary approach’ balanced against the possible benefits of using electronic devices.

By age 2, children can actually benefit from programming that has music, movement and stories. We encourage parents to watch with your child so you can help your child understand what he or she is watching and apply it in real life. This of course should not take the place of reading, playing or problem-solving skills. What is most important is to have some parameters or rules in place to aim to stick to before you introduce your child to screens. 

How to Develop Screen Time Parameters

Since most of a baby’s brain development occurs in the first 2 years of life, it is so important for babies and toddlers to explore their environment and use their five senses to the fullest. Interacting and playing with others really helps them learn about the world around them. 

Ideally the longer you can wait to introduce screens to your baby, the better. In reality, that is easier said than done, especially if things need to be taken care of in the home or if you work remotely with your baby at home. 

Ultimately, you will need to do what works best for your family while also being mindful that the quality of the media your child is exposed to may be more important than the amount of time spent. There will also be days where it is not as challenging to stick to your plan of limiting screen time, but here are tips on how to ensure quality screen time is being provided. 

  • Preview or screen programs before allowing your child to view them. Common Sense Media, for instance, is a great resource that details programming ratings and reviews to help you determine what is appropriate for your child’s age. 
  • Implement parental controls to block or filter internet content.
  • When watching any programming with your child, talk about what you’re watching and educate your child about ads and commercials.
  • Be sure your child is close during screen time so that you can supervise what he or she is watching when you are not able to watch programming with your child.
  • Schedule play dates to break up screen time. Schedule plenty of time for hands-on learning and interacting with caregivers and friends as a way to encourage your child to be physically active.
  • Screens should be turned off and not in use during meals. Also keep TVs and other electronics out of the child’s bedroom.
  • Turn off TVs and other screens when not in use. You should not leave screens on in the background and you should not be on your phone when you are with your child. 

Once children are older, even before they are teenagers, it is important to help them understand what a healthy dose of media is. By the time they are teenagers you will likely allow them to get on social media platforms. However, experts encourage dialogue regarding cyberbullying and inappropriate content they may come across. You would also need to talk to your child about not sharing any private information online. 

No matter how mature your child may be for his or her age, you should monitor his or her online and social media behavior. Also be sure to model good online behavior as well. Consider that your child is watching you for cues on when it’s alright to use screens and how to use them.

If you’re looking for a childcare center that fosters learning through play, be sure to check out The Learning Experience to find a TLE center near you. If you are in the UK, visit us online to schedule a tour

The Learning Experience – East Finchley
250 East End Rd
London N2 8AU
020 8444 2638

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