As the world is turning more towards online means in daily living, one must not ignore how it is affecting this generation of young children in our country. With technological advancements and digitalization, especially since the pandemic, most working class parents have no option but to spend time in front of computers. Where does this leave our children? What are we teaching them about the safe and responsible way of spending time on screens?
In this article, screen will be a common denotation for computer, laptop, smartphone, television and tablet. The recommendations below are mainly for developing young children up to 5 years old. As the youngest ones need the most attention from their caregivers who are undeniably busy with house work or office work, the latter tend to distract their children by allowing them to watch videos, play games, or letting their attention be captured by the media in any way on screens.
What is the appropriate amount of time that a child can spend in front of screens in this digital era without letting it harm their social and language development or, in extreme cases, without getting addicted to it?
Despite these recommendations below, it should be kept in mind that children have always learnt better from in person play and interactions with adults and teachers. Their rewards have been encouragement and affection along with motivation and stern words as mode of discipline. During this face to face learning, screen time should be kept to minimum. This is because while the child spends time on screen they lose the opportunity for real time, in person interactive playing sessions or quality time with family. Excessive screen time can also lead to mental health disorders and loss of attention span in children as they grow up. Nowadays, apps, videos and streaming services are riddled with targeted ads and phishing scams and young children are easy targets.
Children < 2 years old should spend zero time on screen. This implies that they need more attention of their caregivers than children of any other subsequent age.
Children 2-5 years old can get a regular screen time of not more than 1 hour per day to help increase their awareness and knowledge of technology.
What are the other ways to spend time with young ones at home?
One can choose healthier means such as reading age appropriate books, playing outdoor games, arts and crafts than using screens.
Avoid using any device at least 1 hour before sleeping time.
Do not keep any screen in your child's room.
No device should be used during meal times. Use that time to talk about your day to help with family bonding and conversations.
Parents can be good leaders for their children by showing them that they don't need to use devices that often.
When the child has grown up to understand their parents, set a shared plan for family devices and use that to set an example for everyone to follow.
What should the children watch or read on screens when they are using them?
It is always best to be present with your child when they are using a device to explain to them what they are seeing on screens. This improves the bonding and trust between the parent and the child. It will also let the caregiver monitor exactly what their children are watching on screens and how they are reacting to discoveries online.
Choose age-appropriate apps or videos which are mostly educational and informative, preferably without targeted ads.
Parents should thoroughly read the content or try the apps before showing them to their children to make sure of their age appropriateness.
Avoid showing advertisements and adult entertainment content at all costs
Check reviews before deciding to show the content.
E-books can help with language development in kids but a book with pages are always better options. Make sure a caregiver is present to read to them.
Remember no studies suggest that spending time on screen, even watching interactive videos or plays can replace the real time spent with real people. There has been no evidence to support that screen time is better for development of young children. If they are given a choice in their initial years they would always choose in person interactions with people they are familiar with. Screen time may help sometimes to soothe your children during their tantrum episodes, but make sure they are not dependent on it. Children should eventually learn to soothe themselves. Using a calm voice, distracting them with a toy or an activity that they may like will help them more than if a flashy video with a song or even a distracting movie is put in front of them .
As the primary caregiver, it is your responsibility that they don't become deprived of in person, real time interactions with people and develop into healthy, social and outgoing youth.
1. Indian Academy of Pediatrics
2. American Academy of Pediatrics
3. Canadian Pediatric Society