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Set limits on screen time

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Excessive use of devices can hamper children’s growth and social development, says Anjali Kalani

Today, children spend disproportionate amounts of time on screens. How much screen time is reasonable? The phenomenon has become a major bone of contention between parents and children. According to the Common Sense Census children aged zero to eight use screens for an average of two hours and 19 minutes each day. Tweens (children between eight to 12) devote an average of six hours a day to screen usage, while teenagers average a whopping nine hours on screens. These figures exclude school and homework done on computers. Screen time refers to time spent on television, computers, tablets, smart phones and video game consoles. Limiting screen time in the early years helps children make responsible choices later.

While the effects of screen time on children continues to be studied, from my observations as an educator and a mom, I see the need to set limits on screen time. My children were born after the advent of the iPhone and the touch screen era.  As per our pediatrician’s advice and all the parenting books I zealously read, I kept my firstborn completely away from screens for the first two years of his life.  Then, my daughter was born. It was during those seemingly endless sleep-deprived days that I guiltily handed my son the iPad in an attempt to get some respite. Soon, I realised that I had created a need in my child for screen time. During this time, I learned that Steve Jobs, creator of the iPad, did not give his own children the device that we offered our own! Now, there are at least a couple of days in the week when my children are completely screen- free.

Effects of Screen Time on Young Children
Affects Physical, Cognitive and Social Development

Birth to age three is a critical period for physical, cognitive and social development. At this stage, children’s brains develop rapidly and need specific stimuli from the environment for their neural development. Screen time does not provide the necessary stimuli. Screens also involve passively receiving information as opposed to
actively receiving information through manipulating objects.  Special Educator Sonali Sadarangani expresses concern over the delayed social and physical development of children. “Any time young children use screens, they are losing face time.” She adds, “It takes away from their actual growth and they are losing out on the critical social skills they need to develop.” She emphasises the need for children to observe their parents and use their bodies physically to do things like crawling and climbing stairs instead of spending time on electronic devices.

Linked to Childhood Obesity
One of the many concerns with excessive screen time is that children are missing out on actual, physical playtime.  Consequently, they live sedentary lifestyles that can lead to weight gain and other health problems.

Inadequate Sleep and Poor Academic Performance
Those with access to televisions and other electronic devices in their bedrooms are more likely to sleep poorly.  As a result, academic performance suffers.

Addictive in Nature
Some children are likely to get addicted to electronic screens and begin to crave more and more screen time.

Associated with Aggressive Behavior
Children who are exposed to violent video games or television shows and movies develop aggressive behaviours and can become desensitised to violence.

Lack of Boredom
Those who indulge in unreasonable amounts of screen time do not experience boredom. Boredom is vital because it leads to creativity. Instead, these children live in a fantasy world where immediate gratification reigns.

Tips to Help Limit Screen Time
Enforce Screen Time Rules
Make rules about the amount of time children devote to screens. Discuss the rules with your children and adhere to them. In our home, screen time on weekdays is limited to 30 minutes and two hours on weekends.

Provide Stimulating Toys
For young children, keep toys like wooden blocks, puzzles, stacking toys and dress-up clothes on low, open shelves. Rotate the toys frequently.

Keep Children Engaged
Read books, involve them in everyday household tasks, talk and sing to them.

Daily Outdoor Playtime
Being close to nature is calming and playing with other children is beneficial because children learn to problem solve and get along with their peers.

Watch Purposeful Television Only
Background television is distracting and exposes children to content that is not meant for them.

Designate Screen-Free Times
Mealtimes and time spent in the car are opportunities to foster social and emotional connections as a family.

Bedrooms Are Only for Sleeping
Keep televisions, gaming consoles and other devices out of children’s bedrooms.

Buy Children Devices Only When Necessary
Young children do not need their own devices. Bill Gates bought his daughter a smart phone only at 14 because he recognised the addictive nature of screens.

Practice What You Preach
Monitor your own use of devices because children imitate adults.

Although releasing children from the shackles of screen time can seem daunting, persevering will have large payoffs. Screen time when used in moderation can be beneficial. But when it is over-used, it can be detrimental to the social, cognitive and physical development of children. It is addictive and can disrupt sleep patterns and consequently affect academic performance. Melinda Nielsen, Elementary Directress, American Montessori International, acknowledges the positive potential of screens. She recommends, “Like eating sugar, it must be used in moderation. You have to think it through and not use it as a babysitter.”

Anjali Kalani is mother of two independent, precocious children and an AMS and AMI certified Montessori guide who teaches children ages three to six in Houston, Texas.

Short takes

  • Screen time refers to time spent on television, computers, tablets, smart phones and video game consoles. Limiting screen time in the early years helps children make responsible choices later.
  • One of the many concerns with excessive screen time is that children are missing out on actual, physical playtime.  Consequently, they live sedentary lifestyles.

Some Screen Time Guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
  • For children ages two to five years, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programmes. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages six and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
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