In this day and age, technology is everywhere. Elementary schools have introduced tablets and computer-based learning as part of their everyday classrooms, toy companies market learning tablets to children under the age of five, and parents carry small computers and screens around in their purses and pockets. And now babies have their own television channels and DVD’s with titles like “Little Einsteins,” “Preschool on TV,” and “Brainy Baby.” All of which sound great to unknowing parents and caregivers.
However, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends discouraging screen time for children under the age of two, whether television or computer, and limiting educational programming to less than two hours a day to older children. There is no credible evidence that suggests infants and toddlers get any benefit from watching television and some research that shows it may even prove harmful.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an organization dedicated to protecting children from harmful marketing and encouraging commercial-free time and space for children, 29% of infants under the age of 1 watch television and videos for an average of 90 minutes each day. The numbers increase as children age, and between their first and second birthday, about 64% of toddlers are watching television and videos for more than two hours a day and 36% have a television in their bedroom.
Exposure to screen time at an early age affects many aspects of children’s development. Hours spent in front of a screen mean less hours spent engaging in proper development. During a baby’s first years, the brain grows rapidly and it is essential that all five of his senses are engaged.
For these reasons, and more, Chesapeake Montessori School in Hampton Roads, Virginia, refrains from including screen time in the classroom until the age of three. “Children’s House classes do not have computers and are very limited in exposure to media. In elementary we begin using computers and as the children get older, we incorporate more and more technology,” said Shanna Honan, Executive Director of the school.
We want children to experience life through their senses, which in turn builds their brains.
The brain is like a muscle. When a baby interacts with real people, real objects, and has real experiences, the connections in his brain become stronger. Time in front of the television leaves less time for exploring the world. Screenfree.org reports that screen time for children under the age of three is linked to delayed language acquistion. It stands to reason that if a child is spending time in front of the television rather than having conversations about the world, that this could directly affect language development. Screen time can also predict problems in later childhood such as lower math and school achievement, reduced physical activity, and victimization by classmates.
“Our approach is hands on. We also want to build the ability to focus and attend. We do this through use of material,” Honan said. “We want children to experience life through their senses, which in turn builds their brains.”
Along with developmental concerns, exposure to screen time is also a risk factor for childhood obesity. In toddlers, television and computer use is linked to an increased body mass index. For each hour of television viewed a day, children consume an average of an additional 167 calories and tend to eat more high-energy, low-nutrient foods, according to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
The Mayo Clinic, recognized as the best hospital in the nation for 2014-2015, suggests the following tips for managing screen time for your infants and toddlers:
- Eliminate background TV. If the TV is turned on — even if it’s just in the background — it’s likely to draw your child’s attention. If you’re not actively watching a show, turn off the TV.
- Keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom. Children who have TVs in their bedrooms watch more TV than children who don’t have TVs in their bedrooms.
- Don’t eat in front of the TV. Allowing your child to eat or snack in front of the TV increases his or her screen time. The habit also encourages mindless munching, which can lead to weight gain..
- Suggest other activities. Rather than relying on screen time for entertainment, help your child find other things to do, such as reading, playing a sport, helping with cooking or trying a board game.
- Set a good example. Be a good role model by limiting your own screen time.
- Unplug it. If screen time is becoming a source of tension in your family, unplug the TV, turn off the computer or put away the smart phones or video games for a while. You might designate one day a week or month as a screen-free day for the whole family.
Truceteachers.org (Teachers Resisting Unhealty Children’s Entertainment) also features a variety of action guides for families that provide screen-free activities and playtime suggestions. http://www.truceteachers.org/guides.htm
For additional information on the dangers of exposing young children to screen time, please visit www.screenfree.org and be sure to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your child’s pediatrician.