The truth about too much screen time for your child
Why setting technology boundaries is essential for your child’s brain development
Technology has transformed the way we live, work, shop and travel. But it has also changed the way our children play…and that’s not necessarily a good thing! Unless parents keep screen time in check, today’s technology overload could impede brain development in young children and hinder their growth into happy and healthy adults.
Technology and the brain
Technology has changed the way children experience their world. Many parents will probably admit to switching on the iPad or TV to keep their little ones busy or quiet, but experts argue that this seemingly harmless behaviour can have long-term consequences on their child’s development.
“The first 1 000 days of a child’s life are uniquely important for their development, particularly brain development, which is strongly influenced by their relationships, experiences and environment,” explains Liz Senior, Occupational Therapist and Founder of Clamber Club. “A child’s early experiences play a pivotal role in shaping the architecture of the brain and building the connections that enable him to develop life skills like communication, self-control, problem-solving and relationship building.”
Parents who are constantly busy with their devices are also unknowingly having an effect on their child’s brain development. “A parent who is permanently distracted by their tablet or phone is more likely to ignore their baby’s cues, and this can lead to the connection between parent and baby being lost,” says Senior. “This back and forth engagement is an important part of secure attachment, which is critical for healthy brain development in children.”
Too much technology takes its toll
Liz Senior was recently interviewed on Carte Blanche for the ‘Techno Tots’ feature, which examined the impact that technology can have on children’s development. “While children may learn something from watching or interacting with a screen, the fact remains that children learn best when they experience the real three-dimensional world. Feeling, touching, seeing, moving, problem-solving and connecting with others is where children learn best,” she says.
Other negative consequences of too much technology include:
· Low tone and weak core muscle development
· Gross motor problems
· Weak social skills
· Concentration issues
· Lack of imagination and creativity
· Poor problem-solving skills
· Limited lateral thinking ability
· Impatience and aversion to hard work
· A constant need for instant gratification.
The importance of play
“Children learn through play and it is through watching, listening, creating, moving and doing that they develop cognitively, physically and socially,” says Senior. “They learn best when all the senses are stimulated – visual, auditory, tactile and the movement senses, proprioception and vestibular.”
Children don’t have to be permanently stimulated. They also need quiet times with no connectivity where they can wonder, dream and reflect. Nowadays children seem to have less freedom to simply be. Yes, safety and security issues may not allow the carefree bike riding in the neighbourhood of the past, but it is still possible to give them space to create, explore and imagine without handing them a device to do all the work for them.
“Boredom can be good – it is amazing how resourceful children can be if they have no choice but to play outdoors and create their own games,” says Senior. “Learning to cope with being bored leads to greater self-sufficiency, stimulates the imagination and enhances creativity,” she adds.
That being said, Senior doesn’t necessarily think children should be banned from screen time at home. “For babies, yes, but toddlers and pre-schoolers can benefit from technology as a tool of learning, so long as the screen time is an interactive, shared experience,” she concludes.
Clamber Club’s top tips for responsible child technology usage:
1. Limit the quantity
As a rule of thumb, children aged 2-5 years should have no more than one hour a day of screen time. Children aged 5-18 years should have a maximum of two hours per day. This includes all screen time – tablets, TVs and phones.
2. Set boundaries
Don’t allow phones or tablets at the dinner table, and have set screen-free times for the family (parents included). Ban screen time before bedtime as it stimulates brain activity, and definitely don’t allow a TV in your child’s bedroom.
3. Monitor content
Make sure the content is age-appropriate and reflects your child’s experiences in the real world. Violent programming is a definite no-no. Choose interactive programmes, apps and games that encourage your child’s participation. Content should also be wholesome, share your values and show positive interactions between characters on the screen.
4. Participate and engage
Instead of always using screen time to keep children quiet and occupied, share the experience with them wherever possible. Engage with your child, take an interest in what he is watching or playing, and join in when you can.
5. Become a tech role model
Spending all your free time glued to your phone in front of the TV will send very mixed messages to your children about healthy technology usage. Instead, dedicate portions of your evenings or weekend to family time without technology – play cards and board games, build puzzles, cook and bake together, play outdoors with a ball, visit a nearby green space, tell stories and read together. That way, not only will you be helping your child to develop into a healthy, well-rounded individual, but you’ll be giving yourself some much needed ‘off’ time too!