Should You Limit Your Children’s Screen Time?

Young children are exposed to screen time and digital media throughout the day.

Young children are exposed to screen time and digital media throughout the day. Tablets and phones are used as sources of babysitting, entertainment, and for educational purposes. Screens are so common that toddlers who are calmed by a tablet or other screen are called “techno-tots” (Deal, 2017). Some infants and toddlers can navigate tablets and smartphones by tapping and swiping before they can walk or talk.

Screen time and its impact on child development is an important topic for those working with and raising young children. As challenging as it is, adults are responsible for monitoring and guiding children’s screen time. Research clearly shows that children mimic the behaviors of adults. When adults spend a significant amount of time on screens, it is not surprising that children are interested in screens and seek electronic devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has published screen time recommendations. They advise that children under the age of 18 months should not have any access to media. When children are ages 18-24 months, media and screen time should be limited to high quality, educational programming and it’s recommended that parents co-view the content with the children. Children between two and five years old should have an hour or less screen time per day with a focus on high quality, educational programming. Developing a “healthy media diet” is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). Children who use media without limits or guidelines are generally less physically active and screen time use can impact emotional, mental and social development.

Happy teenager boy using mobile phone and headphones in natural background.

One danger of screen time is the impact it can have on relationships, including the parent/child relationship, and a child’s ability to self-regulation of their emotions. When parents and caregivers spend time talking, reading, and playing with a child, they are helping the child learn how to socially interact with other people. Children who spend time looking at a screen may not adequately develop strong, relationships and social skills. As children develop, they need to learn self-regulation skills to manage their behavior and calm themselves. When a screen is used as a calming method, children may not learn how self-regulate or manage their actions during times of boredom or over-excitement.

Screen time can also impact physical health (including sleep and exercise) as well as social and academic development. Studies have shown that blue light, which is emitted by screens, changes the body’s natural sleep cycle, making it hard to fall asleep. For children, blue lighting could impact nap time as well as overnight sleep. Young children are growing rapidly, and an adequate amount of sleep is important for their development. Equally important is exercise and creative play which is often reduced with an increased use of screens and media. Reduced physical activity can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Engaging in media can also distract children from creative play. Unstructured play allows children the opportunity to develop problem solving, movement, listening, and social skills while allowing children to learn more about their unique interests.

Studies continue to assess the impact of screen time on academic performance and the overall development of children. “Devices may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-moto skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” shares Jenny Radesky, MD and Clinical Instructor in Development-Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston University (Washel, 2017). Children need to experience activities that foster problem solving, exploration, creative thinking, and experimentation (Lerner, Barr, 2015).

As technology advances, parents need to review the guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and take steps to implement a media plan that fits their family. With adults tied to their smartphones, Alexa, and other electronics, it’s not realistic that children will be free from these devices; however, it is important to teach children to manage their device use. The first step is for parents and caregivers to decide on a media plan and work together to track and enforce limits.

Young person using a computer with headphones.As screen time is reduced, a gap is created and here are a few tips to help parents navigate and guide children. Ideally, the additional time would be filled with family time doing activities together such as reading, cooking, going to the park, attending story time at the library, or playing games. During meal times, take a moment to turn off the television and instead of watching a show, use the time for conversation, turn-taking, or storytelling (Deal, 2017). When the screen turns off, it’s a great time to turn on some music. Take a moment to dance or let the children play with music in the background. Importantly, parents should reduce their screen time as a role model for their children (May Clinic, 2016).

Parents and caregivers play an important role in helping children develop socially in a society that is increasingly engaged in media. The American Academy of Pediatrics developed guidelines to help families navigate this new dimension in society. Although the impact of screen time is relatively new and the consequences are still being studied, parental monitoring of screen time and content can positively increase the development of young children.

References

  1. Deal, C. 11 Dangers of Screen Time, 24 February 2017, lessonandlearningforlittles.com.
  2. Lerner, C. and Barr, R. Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight – Research Based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old, Zero to Three, 35 (N4), 1-10. March 2015.
  3. New Recommendations for Media Use, 21 October 2016. americanacademcyofpediatrics.com.
  4. Screen Time and Children-How to Guide Your Child, 18 November 2016. Mayo Clinic Newsletter.
  5. Washel, E. 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Give a Child a Smartphone or Tablet, September 2017. littlethings.com

3 Ways to Help Children Adjust to Daylight Savings Time

Spring Forward and Fall Back for Daylight Savings Time. Spring is on the way, so when we move the clocks forward, sunrise will be later creating darker mornings with sunset also later, allowing for more daylight in the evening hours. Whenever we experience a time change – whether it’s traveling across time zones or changing the clocks – our circadian rhythm is disrupted. We plan for jet lag and we can also plan for Daylight Savings.

Children’s lives are often schedule driven and deviations from the established routine can result in misbehavior. Thus, children are susceptible to circadian rhythm disruptions and may react in a variety of ways. Children may exhibit the same signs as to when they miss a nap such as increased grumpiness or crankiness, incessant crying, clinginess, and even increased aggression. Older children may have less energy or feel sluggish. The effects of the time change disruption can last from a few days to a couple of weeks. So how can we help children better adjust?
Many parents and childcare providers focus on bedtime as the primary adjustment; however, putting children to bed at a different time may not be as productive as we’d like. Just because we are in bed, doesn’t mean we can fall asleep. Time changes can make us feel sleepy, but they also result in changes in metabolism, mood, and bodily functions. The child’s entire schedule should be examined. For example, a toddler who has a regular bowel movement right before bed at 8 pm will have that move closer to 9 once the clocks change if his meal schedule is not adjusted. So, what do we do?

1. Proactive Approach. This involves adjusting the child’s schedule beginning a week or two before the time change. The most common method is to adjust the schedule by 15-minute intervals every three days or so. You would start about 10 days ahead of the time change and, for spring, wake a child 15 minutes later. You would then adjust their entire schedule (naps, meals, playtime, bath-times, and bedtimes) by 15 minutes for 3 days. On day 4, you would make another 15-minute adjustment resulting in a 30 minutes shift for another 3 days. On day 7, you would make a 45-minute adjustment. On day 10, when the time change occurs, you would have the child on a schedule that syncs with the time change. This is easier with children who are not yet in school but is more challenging if others control part of the child’s daily schedule.
2. Do-Nothing Approach. Simply change the child’s schedule all at once when the clocks are changed. There may be some resistance to going to bed Sunday night since it’s lighter out and there may be grumpiness in the morning they have to get up when it’s darker, but these normal reactions to circadian rhythm disruptions are handled as they occur.
3. Reactive Approach. This involves adjusting the child’s schedule gradually after the time change just like the preemptive approach described above. A child who rises at 8am before the change would rise at 8:45 for 3 days, then 8:30 for 3 days, then 8:15 for 3 days, and then back to 8am. Remember that the child’s entire schedule (naps, meals, playtime, bath-times, and bedtimes) should be adjusted by these 15-minute intervals for the best result.

As with most advice, these three are not the only options and hybrids are often used. Since we have little to no control over school age children’s daily activity schedules, many try to ease their transition over the weekend of the change. This involves an accelerated proactive approach. If the time changes occurs at 2am Sunday, this approach would begin with and earlier bedtime Friday evening. Decrease activities Friday evening and put the child to bed 30 minutes early. On Saturday morning, get them up 30 minutes early and keep their schedule 30 minutes ahead the entire day (including going to bed 30 minutes early again Saturday night). Once the time has changed, you can follow one of two paths – let them sleep in 30 minutes late and adjust their schedule accordingly all day or get them up at their regular time and ‘force’ them to the usual schedule. They would go to bed on time Sunday evening and start the school week with their usual schedule. Given the acceleration of the ‘adjustment period’, the child will most likely still exhibit some of the misbehavior discussed above, but hopefully the duration is less than if you do nothing.

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