A poll out of the University of Michigan shows that about 25% of parents let their young children have 3 hours or more of screen time per day. This news is disconcerting given that experts agree that children over the age of 2 should get no more than 2 hours per day, and less is preferable. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that children under the age of 2 should not spend any time in front of a screen. Screen time is not only encroaching on other more developmentally appropriate activities, it also affects a child’s emotional and neurological development.
Smartphones and tablets are making it challenging for parents to monitor and control the amount of time their child spends in front of a screen. A Child’s role, starting in infancy, is to explore and share his world. Television and computer games unfortunately interfere with this natural process. Hours that should be spent looking at plants, people, exploring smells, tastes, textures, nature and playing within the community are instead spent shutting the world out. Screen time provides one way communication, reducing the opportunities for the child to challenge himself and communicate with his caregivers.
Screen time also affects the nervous system negatively. Studies have shown that the exposure to the light coming off of the screens disrupts the natural sleep cycles of our bodies, and children are especially vulnerable. It also can overload the sensory system and make children moody, impulsive and plain tired. Findings also point towards changes in brain structures due to excessive exposure to television and video games.
According to the AAP, children under the age of two should not be given screen time as a form of entertainment, and this type of activity should be strictly restricted in children above the age of two as well. Instead, consider these fun activities to share with your child:
- Reading books together
- Touching new textures (soft fabrics, rough fabrics, grass, flowers…)
- Cooking together (a child can help pour or mix)
- Coloring or painting together
- Gardening together
- Pretend play
- Playing “I spy” or “20 questions” (with older kids)
- Playing at the park
- In public areas, such as restaurants and stores, teach your child to people watch. Talk with him/her about what you see together.
- You can also keep his/her little hands busy by playing interactive games such as Pat-a-Cake or Itsy-Bitsy Spider.
- Here’s a link to some other famous interactive nursery rhymes you can try: http://www.education.com/magazine/article/learning-play-games-patcake-piggy/