Like many parents, your home and your world would be filled with screens . We use digital media for just about everything nowadays ranging from information to shopping to education and entertainment. It would be natural for us to include our children in this aspect of our life and share with them technology that we so enjoy. But the question is how much is enough ?
According to pediatricians and children’s health experts, time spent on screen media is not the best choice for babies and young children, whose bodies and brains are in a critical stage of development. To learn and grow properly, children under 2 need hands-on exploration of the physical world and social interaction with parents and caregivers.
The latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend the following:
Less than 2 years : NO SCREEN TIME: For children younger than 2 years, evidence for benefits of media is very limited, In case of Media use adult interaction with the child is crucial, and there continues to be evidence of harm from excessive digital media use.(Reference: Why No EScreen ? Illeffects)
Occasional, brief video chats with relatives are OK. While the AAP still strongly discourages any kind of screen time at this age, a handful of new studies suggest there is some benefit to interacting with relatives like this.
Basically, if you keep it short and not too frequent, and you continue interacting with your child (“That’s Nani. She loves you very much. Can you say something for Nani? Or blow a spit bubble for Nani, that works, too.”) your kid is unlikely to be affected by the serious negatives like cognitive, language and social/emotional delays, and may even pick up a word or two.
Parents can now introduce specific types of programming under specific circumstances starting at 18 months – but reading between the lines, basically any screen time at this age is for parents benefit, not the child’s.
2 to 5 Screen Time – 30 minutes to 1 hr per day
AAP recommends a screen of 1 hour or less for children in a day. It should be a well designed television program such as Sesame street or Dora The Explorer that can improve cognitive, literacy, and social outcomes for children 2 to 5 years of age. Unfortunately, most apps parents find under the ‘educational’ category in app stores have no such evidence of efficacy, target only rote academic skills, are not based on established curricula, and use little or no input from developmental specialists or educators.”
How your child experiences screen time affects whether it’s healthy or unhealthy. If you and your child are engaging with the media together, and interacting and conversing with each other (this includes reading e-books – together) then that hour of screen time each day is OK.
What your child is doing with his or her screen time is also critical. An educational book, program or game that is slow-paced, with no distracting or violent content is the only kind of healthy digital media for kids.
Why you’re allowing your child screen time also influences its effects. The AAP advises parents to avoid giving a child media as a way to calm him or her, as it could lead to “problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation.”
The AAP’s screen time guidelines also recommend keeping children’s bedtimes (and bedrooms, full stop), mealtimes and parent-child playtimes media-free (including for the parent; put the ringer on silent). Basically, when parents typically find screen time most helpful, it’s not allowed.
Even if the how, what and why boxes are checked, digital media still isn’t that educational. No matter what the marketing says, the AAP stresses that “higher-order thinking skills and executive functions essential for school success, such as task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking, are best taught through unstructured and social (not digital) play, as well as responsive parent–child interactions.”
If we’re honest, the screen time we allow our children doesn’t often fall under the AAP’s fairly explicit explanation of screen time that is healthy and affords potential benefits. And the AAP is pretty clear that unless screen time is within these parameters, it can have major negative developmental implications.
We may be living in an exponentially digital world, and it may feel nigh impossible to manage our kids’ exposure to it, the AAP says, but that doesn’t make most screen time good for them.
PS: For older than 5 years, screen time of not more than 1 hour is recommended. Even this exposure should have content that is under parental supervision and as per approved norms