Screen Time Suggestions and Alternatives for Children

Saw a great discussion happening today on Facebook among local parents and it made me think about this article written a few years back by our local Speech and Language pathologist Jackie Taylor. I thought I’d post it here in case anyone was interested in having a read.

PowerPoint Presentation

Block play, playdough, trains, wagons- these are the toys of our childhood (if you’re a generation Y and higher like myself). Often these are the toys that are passed on from generation to generation. Grandma’s/Noni’s/Naanay’s doll can be just as fun to a child now as it was to its original owner. Despite the longevity and broad appeal of these toys, they are seemingly being replaced by a number of new shiny alternatives. iPads, tablets and smart phones have become increasingly common place over the past few years.

Albeit a fairly new technology, it seems unlikely that we will see iPads or tablets being passed on to the grandchildren. Often these technologies have a shelf life of only 3-4 years with the apps and videos that we fill them with disappearing even more quickly. It is increasingly more common to see very young children glued to a device, whether it be mom’s phone while sitting in the grocery cart or dad’s iPad while waiting at the airport. But what are the implications of this screen time on our children’s development? We’ve all heard about the negative effect of excessive screen time on physical health in school age children. While this is an ongoing and chronic issue, less has been said about its impact on preschooler’s development.

The first few years of life are incredibly important formative years when it comes to cognition and brain development. While research in this area is still developing there is enough evidence to point us toward a number if implications of screen time in the early years. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a paper on this very topic in 1999, which resulted in the recommendation that “we [should] discourage the use of media by children under the age of two”. When telling this to parents I often hear this reply ‘But my two year old loves watching those Dora DVD’s and she learns so much!’ To this I reply –she’s likely learning a lot less than you think. The researchers discussed their recommendation and their reasoning is two-fold and involves two different pathways that screen time can impact young children:

• Direct pathway: what we watch effects how we act so the content matters and for very young children the rapid pacing of the programming can impair the development of executive function. This includes skills such as impulse control and the ability to organize and plan effectively (we all know at least one person who seems to have some executive function impairment….)

• Indirect pathway: Every minute spent in front of a screen is a minute that your child is not doing something that is likely more beneficial for their brain. Children this age are only awake for 8-12 hours a day, and this time is incredibly important developmentally. You want to optimize this time for learning and research has shown that block play produces much more cortisol (which is optimal for learning at appropriate levels) than watching a DVD.

So children under the age of 2 shouldn’t be watching DVD’s, but what about all of the fun education applications that are interactive and oh so engaging? Well, it’s likely that these are more conducive to learning that a non-interactive video. They provide the child with that ‘I did it’ feeling that comes from interacting with an object or person. In a recent follow-up article to the original recommendations made by the AAP, Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis writes that these interactive applications may provide some benefit to young children but should continue to be limited to no more that 30-60 minutes per day. So while that screen may be calling your little ones name, pull out the blocks, and stuffed animals and start playing instead!

Hope you enjoyed this article and here are some suggestions about alternative things you can do instead of giving children access to screens From the National Center for Health Research: Here are some ways you can limit screen exposure and increase interactive play:

-Get your toddlers and pre-school age children involved in household chores and let it be a learning opportunity. You can get them small brooms so they can sweep one part of the room while you sweep another, and you can teach them the names and colors of vegetables while you are cooking.

-Make it a point to eat dinner together and ask your child about his or her day. If it is a very young child, you can remind him of all the things he did that day, asking a few simple questions, such as what he liked best about the day.

-If you really need your child to be occupied during an important call or while you complete a task and you don’t think that she will be able to play long enough by herself, let her listen to pre-recorded stories on a tape or CD. You can buy these but better yet, record yourself telling or reading your child’s favorite stories. This way your child will have you, even when you are not available or are away on a trip. Listening to stories, as opposed to watching them on TV or on a computer, helps children develop listening skills. Here is a link to Robert Munsch’s website where he reads all his books, for free.

-When you want to watch an adult show, record or PVR it and watch it after your child goes to sleep.

-Get a tupperware and have cups with water, and/or sand/rice/beans, (no chokeables for very young children) whatever you have on hand. Young children are often capable of playing quite happily with items like these on their own for some time.

-Provide your young child with simple toys and household objects that aren’t automated (if the toy needs batteries, save it for when the child is older). The more the toy does, the less your child will do.(Remember the “personalized educational curriculum”!)

Islands Wellness SocietyScreen Time Suggestions and Alternatives for Children