A look at the impact that screen time through the use of phones, tablets and TV’s is having on our children’s development and ideas for how to effectively use these electronic devices to encourage development.
Today, pretty much everyone we know has a smart phone, some type of tablet, and multiple televisions; rarely do we see people interacting amongst each other without some sort of device appearing to be glued to their hand. This trend has also at some point along the way been carried over to our children. Today a remarkable “70 percent of households with children have a tablet,” which has usually been purchased for their kids to use, in addition to multiple televisions and cell phones (1). Now, I am not saying that kids should never be given an electronic device or be allowed to watch the television. I realize how unrealistic that sounds with our technological society that continues to evolve all the time. I also recognize the benefits of using technology from a young age to develop new skills and remain competent in our hi-tech world. Devices can definitely provide children with new opportunities to learn in a fun and captivating way when used correctly. However, what I am saying is that it is extremely important for parents to limit the amount of screen time that their child is allowed per day.
Monitor Time and Content
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children age two and up should participate in no more than one to two hours of quality screen time a day. High quality content can be classified as content that is educational, promotes learning and opportunities for movement and/or interaction with others. The AAP also recommends no screen time for infants and children under 2, this suggestion is based off of the principles of neuroscience and related to how quickly a child’s brain is developing during the first years of life. The use of electronics should be avoided for these young children to encourage and promote appropriate play skills, environmental exploration, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social interaction with face-to-face play opportunities and communication skills. Another concern with screen time results from the fact that “tech for young children is evolving faster than scientific research can study its effects,” and therefore we do not even truly know how excessive time spent in front of a screen may or may not be negatively affecting our children (4).
The following statistics address just how prevalent of an issue the overuse of screen time is in America: A recent study found that “61 percent of children under two use screen media and 43 percent watch television every day in addition to this nearly a third of American children live in a household where the television is on all or most of the time”(2). Another staggering statistic from the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that, “Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices (AAP).” This amount of screen time far exceeds the current recommendation and therefore supports how important it is for a parent to take action and place boundaries on their children’s screen time. In addition to limiting the amount of time and content, it is also recommended that parents make clear electronic device restrictions in the home. One way to begin setting up clear and consistent/routine based boundaries is to create “Screen- Free” zones where there are no tablets, televisions, phones, video games, or computers allowed. A Screen-Free zone may be the child’s bedroom, the dining room table, while eating out at a restaurant, family game night or anytime that the parent would like the child to rest and/or actively participate in family activities.
Screen Time and Behavior
In addition to missing out on opportunities for the child to improve their social skills, fine-motor skills, gross motor skills and social skills through active play, studies have also shown that excessive media use can lead to “attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.” Therefore it is especially important to take into account limiting device use for children who may already have difficulties with their sleep cycle, obesity, attention and/or behavior (3). Developmental milestones may also be affected by screen time. A simple game of throw and catch may not seem as fun or enticing as playing a video game or watching a YouTube video. However, playing a game of throw and catch helps a child to develop the following skills: hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual-motor integration, timing, shoulder strength, grasp balance etc., all skills that are crucial to a child being successful in and out of the classroom. It is important to keep in mind the skills that a child may be missing out on when they remain static while watching television or playing a video game.
As a home health pediatric occupational therapist I am given an inside glimpse into a families world and am able to observe how a child is interacting with their family and natural environment. More often then not these days it seems like the use of a tablet is doing more bad than good and creating an increased amount of behavioral issues in the home. Often children know exactly where the tablet is in the home and will leave a therapeutic activity if it has become challenging or they decide they are finished and escape to their tablet. When I attempt to tell the child that they can ask mom or dad to use the device later and remove it from the therapy session a tantrum usually unfolds. I have seen first hand how media time can affect behavior as children today are seeking immediate gratification from these extremely stimulating devices and using the tablet as they please.
Structuring tablet use in combination with a behavioral chart is one way to work towards improving behavior in the home. For example, if you the parent know that you are going to do 5 things with your child in the morning then you allow the child the opportunity to earn tablet use by doing a good job with all 5 activities. First, write out each of the 5 activities, often drawing pictures next to each item will be helpful if the child cannot read yet. Then, after each activity allow the child the opportunity to place or draw a smiley face (this can also be a sticker, certain color etc.) next to the number they have just completed. If the child has done a good job and earned all 5 smiley faces then they are allowed to participate in an educational tablet activity for a certain amount of time designated by you the parent (keep in mind the 1-2 hour daily recommendation). This behavioral chart will help the parent limit the amount of screen time and set clear boundaries. The child will appreciate the consistency, as they will begin to take responsibility over their behavior and understand the cause and effect relationship of good behavior to tablet use. The child will also begin to feel a sense of independence over their day and improve their self-esteem along the way from knowing that they did a good job. The tablet has now been used as a positive reinforcement in a structured manner giving the child an understanding of when and how the device is used.
Take Away Points:
- Limit the amount of time that children are using devices to 1-2 hours a day.
- Screen time is not recommended for children 2 and under due to how rapidly their brain is developing during this crucial time period requiring movement and play to improve fine motor skills, visual-motor skills, gross motor skills, social skills, etc.
- The recommended 1-2 hours a day of screen time for children should be “High Quality” Content.
- Get outside and play. Children learn best by interacting with people, and their environment, not screens.
- Implement a behavioral chart and allow device use as a positive reinforcement to good behavior.
Free Recommended High Quality, Educational Apps
Visual- Perceptual: Fruit Ninja, Doodle Find, PETALS: A BRAIN TEASING PUZZLE, Brain Trainer Pro, iDoodleCard
Self-Care: Brush Up- Make Brushing Fun!, Step-by-Step getting dressed with the Wonkidos, Toilet Training- Baby’s Potty, Kiddie: Positive Parenting toddlers 2-5 years old.
Handwriting: Little Writer, My First Alphabet Phonics, 123s ABC’s Preschool Learn HWOTP Kid Handwriting, Cursive Writing
Sensory Calming: Fluidity, PocketPond2, Gloop, Heat Pad, Smart Tot Rattle
Written by Natalie Shore, MS, OTR/L
- Fidler, R. (2015, April 28). RJI Mobile Media Research Project. Retrieved August 15, 2016, from https://www.rjionline.org/research/rji-mobile-media-research-project/2014-q1-research-report-1
- Television/Screen Time and Health. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2016, from http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpcd/chp/cdrr/obesity/tvviewing/tvscreeninfo.html
- Leibovich, L. (2013, September 4). 8 Ways Screens Are Ruining Your Family’s Life. Retrieved August 15, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/04/ways-screens-are-ruining-your-familys-life_n_3860927.html?comm_crv
- (2015, April 25). AAP Parents sound off on mobile device use by children. Retrieved August 15, 2016, from “http://www.abstracts2view.com/pas/view.php?nu=PAS15L1_2195.2.