Screen time and Toddlers

Posted on 07 February 2014 by Kristrun

Most of us are guilty of using Peppa Pig or Thomas the Tank Engine as a pseudo baby sitter. Or these fantastic apps that can keep little ones occupied for indefinite periods. I’m putting up my hand, here – I use screens in my house to buy peace and quiet, some quality time for me and often just that one email or a cup of coffee. I do it despite knowing that when I remove the screen, they will cry, there will be a fight and they will beg for “just one more”. It’s amazing how addictive this screen is to these little creatures and how difficult it can be to balance screen-time and non-screen-time. The very fact that this term “screen-time” has so quickly become a part of our vocabulary is alarming in itself.

How much screen time is safe?

Research has suggested that if you introduce the screen too early, language development may be affected. Some even say that the child can be six times more likely to develop speech problems. Teachers and early childhood educators know that a child’s vocabulary can vary greatly from one child to another, and that can often be linked directly to screen time versus oral interaction with real human beings. People ultimately do not learn language from a TV. Expression, emotion, tone, pitch, and the myriad of subtleties linked with any language comes from human interaction. I recommend less than 1 hour total screen time per day per child from the age of 1-5. None, or as little as possible, for babies younger than 12 months of age.

Screen time and Sleep

We know that screen time close to bedtime will affect sleep. The lights from the screens – especially screens that are kept very close to little faces will have an impact on their sleeping patterns. Try to balance the routine around bedtime so that watching anything on screen is kept as far from the actual sleeping time as possible. Easy way to do it is to use the screens to quiet things down, then switch off, play quietly, have dinner, then bath, read a book and go to sleep.

Screens and meals

As tempting as it may be, we all know it is not a good habit to allow children to be in front of the screen when having a meal. It can affect the amount of food they consume and their overall eating habits. They may eat like robots and completely out of balance with their appetite. Children want to copy everything adults do – including eating. If you have fussy eaters or children not interested in meal times, the best advice is to eat with your children or have your helper eat with them, if it is impossible for you to do so. This will help in making them interested and engaged during feeding times. Eating should be a social time, and it is never too early to instill this association.

Stick with what works

Some will argue that there are many educational apps and TV programs that can be very good for children. That may be right – there are certain programs that are very well designed and can stimulate and teach children all manner of things. But children learn far more from interaction with you, or others around them. Focus on labelling your surroundings – talk about size, shapes, colours, emotions, distances etc. Also focusing on stimulating their senses by allowing them to touch and feel their environment, and make an effort to have them exposed to soil, sand, grass, stones, pebbles – as many different environments as you can. This varying stimulus is so important to a baby’s development. Good old fashioned books, nursery rhymes and songs, always work. One of the biggest problems society will face in the future will be children who have severe problems socializing and they will be hiding behind their computer screens, unable to cope with the world around them in all its unpredictable, messy, disordered, wonderful glory. By focusing on communication, verbal interaction and stimulation, we will help build a foundation for life.

Bear all of this in mind whilst being realistic. Sometimes the screen is a lifesaver for everyone. When travelling with my children in the double buggy- the small screens makes us capable of doing these long haul flights with layovers. And when they are sick – it completely saves everything to have Peppa Pig with us to shorten the day. But let’s make it an exception, rather than a rule. A treat, rather than the norm. A conversation with Mummy or Daddy beats Peppa Pig, hands down, every time.

Kristrun Lind – Mother of two toddlers

B.Ed, M.Ed. (Iceland, HK), C.E.C.E. (HK)

kristrun@annerley.com.hk

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