Raise your hand if you’ve ever used a screen to help calm a crying baby or distract a fussy toddler. Well, who hasn’t?
After an exhausting day without a moment to yourself and tons of chores still left to do, resorting to a little screen time to calm a wailing child can feel natural. We hear you! Televisions, tablets, and phones act as temporary babysitters in most households. But how much screen time is okay and when do you need to stop?
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends zero screen time for children younger than 18 months and an hour each day of quality screen time for kids between 2-5 years of age.
So while some screen time may be helpful for children, we need to ask — What is quality screen time? What effects does bad screen time have on kids in the long run? How can we limit harmful screen time effectively? Let’s find out!
How screen time can impact your child
Hinders language development: Experts say that allowing your child too much screen time can impair their language development. This is because children learn languages best by interacting with people around them and passively watching a screen will not help them in the same way.
While watching an educational show or a fun cartoon with your little one, repeat the words to them and talk about what is happening on the screen.
What you can do: While using a screen as an electronic babysitter is not a good idea, watching videos and shows with your child can be helpful. While watching an educational show or a fun cartoon with your little one, repeat the words to them and talk about what is happening on the screen. This type of quality screen time is what toddlers need.
Causes sleep trouble: Screens stimulate children's brains because the blue light they emit delays the release of the hormone melatonin, which kids need to wind down and fall asleep. So the more screen time a child is exposed to in the evening, the more difficult it will be for them to fall asleep.
What you can do: Good sleep is essential for a child's development. So set a cut off time for your child to watch TV or videos until. Keep it at least a few hours before their bed time so they have sufficient room to wind down and get ready for sleep.
Impacts health: Screen time is often used as a replacement for physical activity which children need to remain healthy and develop well. Insufficient physical activity has been linked to a number of future health problems from heart diseases to poor bone health to depression. Screen time has also been linked to toddlers having low attention spans and acting out.
What you can do: Remember that while quality screen time may be educational, your child still needs movement and creative play for their all-round development. So make sure they have physical activity and other forms of play scheduled into their day, no matter what.
Make mealtimes a screen-free family affair. This will give you time to bond and help your child be conscious of what’s on their plate, what foods they enjoy eating, and when they are full.
Impacts food habits: If your child is used to watching the TV while they eat, they may not learn to identify their hunger and fullness cues. This could lead to harmful eating habits, an unhealthy relation with food, and body image issues in the long run.
What you can do: Make mealtimes a screen-free family affair. This will give you time to bond and help your child be conscious of what’s on their plate, what foods they enjoy eating, and when they are full. In turn, they will build healthy eating habits and a good relation with food and their bodies.
Simple ways to limit screen time
1. Get on the same page - Talk to your whole family and make sure everyone is on the same page about your screen time policy. Making screen time a part of the house rules may limit the adults and older siblings too, but it ensures that your little ones have minimal temptations around.
2. Eliminate background noise - Turn off all screen devices when your child is walking around the house or playing. In this way, they can explore and learn without any unnecessary distractions.
3. Create no-device zones - Decide on no-device zones such as the dining area and your children’s rooms. This ensures that activities such as sleeping and eating are not linked to watching TV and don’t become a crutch for your kids later on.
4. Keep alternatives ready - If you are going on a long car trip or a plane journey, pack fun alternatives for screen time. Instead of keeping your child occupied with cartoons on your phone or ipad, carry simple travel games or let them play and tire themselves out before so they fall asleep easily during travel.
5. Ensure quality checks - Keep an eye on what your child is watching at all times. Make sure they only watch child-friendly, high-quality shows. When screens are not linked to mindless distractions, your child will tend to pick it less often than other forms of entertainment like their toys and games.
Remember that screens are only as powerful as we allow them to be. Use them sparsely and wisely and your child will grow up to have a good relation with screens, the world around them, and themselves!