Effects of Screen Time on Young Children
by Shawna Mehlberg, Divine Savior Academy Early Childhood Director
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children in the United States are spending an average of 7 hours each day viewing media through screened devices: televisions, computers, smart phones, and tablets. This statistic has prompted numerous studies on the effects of screen time on young children, especially younger than five years old. During the early childhood years, children???s brains are still in a critical stage of development. Therefore, the use of media affects young children in a different and more penetrating way than it does during other stages of life.
Research has found connections between excessive screen time and:
- Under-??developed Fine Motor Skills. As children spend more time on screened devices, they spend less time experimenting with a variety of writing materials and performing other manipulative tasks with their hands. This lower level of hands??-on activity is leading to a notable lack of hand strength, mobility, and overall fine motor skill.
- Obesity. The Mayo Clinic describes a strong link between screen time and the risk of obesity. The lack of physical activity that occurs when a child is engaged in screen time can affect a child???s physical health and lead to unhealthy weight gain.
- Behavioral and Academic Problems. Children who spend more than 2 hours each day watching TV or using another personal devices are more likely to have emotional and social problems. In addition, a link to academic performance and children who have their own televisions in their bedrooms has been seen (Mayo Clinic). Screen time for young children has also been associated with irregular sleep patterns and delayed language acquisition.
- Impaired Attention Skills. Visual media, with its rapidly changing images, has been linked to attention problems in young children. Children have difficulty transitioning from the ???screen world??? to the real world, where they are asked to focus for longer periods of time independently.
- Less Time for Play. Nothing is more critical during the early childhood years than play. Play is the medium through which children demonstrate their critical thinking and problem??-solving skills. Creative and open??-ended play puts all areas of development into practice (social, emotional, language, cognitive, and motor), therefore, less time for play puts development at risk.
Recommendations for the appropriate use of technology:
- Create Screen-free Zones. Do not allow children to have televisions or personal devices in their bedrooms, where they can have unsupervised access. Eliminate background TV. Turn off the TV during dinner time.
- Limit Screen Time. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time for children under two years old. For older children, it recommends no more than 2 hours per day.
- Developmentally Appropriate Media Use. Limit media use to high ??quality, intentional, and purposeful activities. When used appropriately, technology and media use can enhance children???s cognitive and social abilities. Interactions with technology and media should be playful and support creativity, exploration, pretend play, active play, and outdoor activities (National Association for the Education of Young Children).
- Avoid Using Screen Time as a Punishment or Reward. Making screen time a punishment or reward only enhances the draw of screen ??time.
- Be Active. Help your child find other activities for entertainment, such as reading, playing a sport, engaging in physical activity outside, helping with cooking, playing a board game, and creating arts and crafts.
Balance is key when considering screen time for our children. Technology and interactive media can be valuable tools when they are used intentionally to support the active, hands-??on, and creative play of young children, and our children need to be prepared to live and succeed in this rapidly-??changing technology age. We foster and teach this balance to our children not only by limiting their screen time, but also by being role models of appropriate and balanced media use ourselves.
Shawna Mehlberg is the Early Childhood Director at Divine Savior Academy. For more information about appropriate screen time use, visit aap.org. To learn more??about Divine Savior Academy in Doral, Florida, please visit DivineSaviorAcademy.com or call 305-597-4545 for more information about DSA???s??preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school programs.??