If you’ve been in our waiting room recently, you’ve probably noticed our bulletin board about screen time guidelines for kids. And if you’ve been in one of our therapy sessions lately, you’ve likely heard one of your therapists talk about this same issue. It’s something that comes up a lot here at Advent. Why? Because we are convinced that it matters. And we are convinced that there are very real risks to overuse of screen time, especially in very young children. Stay with me here. I am not out to add to your parenting challenges. Trust me. I am a parent too. But I am here to call out the cultural norm and help us navigate a media-heavy society responsibly (and equip our children to do the same). So let’s start with the obvious question:
What’s the problem with screen time, anyway?
Research has begun to highlight a number of potential ill-effects of heavy media use in kids, but in this post, we will focus on language development (it happens to be my area of expertise as well). The bottom line is that media use can interfere with language development and therefore, communication. Young children (under 2) cannot effectively learn from programs even if the programs are educational, as they cannot translate information from the 2-D world (TV) and use it in the 3-D (reality). Furthermore, the more time a young child spends in front of a screen, the less time they will spend interacting with an actual human, or with a stack of blocks, or books, etc. And we know that language processing and communication development happens rapidly in the early years. We also know that real human interaction is the catalyst for this process.
Check out some of the research:
A new study found that babies aged 6-24 months who used handheld devices had an increased risk of language delay. For every 30 minutes of daily screen time, there was a 49% increase in risk of expressive language delay. Forty-nine percent!!! Check out this helpful clip:
This study from 2008 also linked screen time in toddlers to increased risk of language delay. They found that kids who started watching TV earlier (younger than 1 year) and kids who watched more daily TV (more than 2 hours) had 6x the risk of language delay. I’m no statistician, but that sounds like a pretty big increase to me.
Here are some other supporting studies if you’re the peer-reviewed article-reading type:
- Association of Screen Time Use and Language Development in Hispanic Toddlers. Duch, et al. 2013. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0009922813492881
- Effects of Television Exposure on Developmental Skills Among Young Children. Lin, et al. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25544743
- Relationship between television viewing and language delay in toddlers. Byeon, et al. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25785449
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Excessive screen time (generally defined as > 2 hours per day) in early childhood (under 3 years) has also been linked to:
- Cognitive delays
- Motor delays
- Social/emotional delays
- Negative effects on attention
- Poor executive functioning (impulse control, self-regulation, mental flexibility)
- Difficulty understanding other’s thoughts and feelings
- Sleep difficulties
- Higher incidence of obesity
- Media addiction (yes, this is a real thing!)
So What’s a Parent to Do? Screens are Everywhere.
Screens are here to stay. So how do we help our children manage this media maze? The AAP recently updated their media guidelines to reflect modern media practices of American families (i.e. tablet and phone use being much more prevalent vs just TV). Their guidelines are a helpful start for children who do not have any delays (language, motor, or other). But remember, if your child is experiencing language delays, etc, it may benefit them to reduce screen time even beyond these recommendations. I am not suggesting that screens are what caused the delay in the first place, but we have hard data to support that screens do not help in a child’s language progression (or other area of development).
American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines on Media Use
Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months.
For children ages 18 to 24 months of age, if you want to introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming and use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.
Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early; children will figure them (tablets, etc) out quickly once they start using them at home or in school.
For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, coview with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation. Ask your pediatrician (or therapist) for help if needed.
Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.
No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
Yeah, this sounds great. Until my 2 year old is tantruming in the doctor’s office….
First of all, we’ve all been there (any parent who tells you they haven’t is probably lying!) Secondly, I would encourage you to reach out to others around you to bounce ideas off of. Have a therapist? A Pediatrician? Ask them for tips on ways to reduce your families reliance on screens. I am confident they would love to help!
There is so much more we could discuss, but I hope I’ve given you some things to think about today. Please check back soon for my own list of favorite parenting survival tips that do NOT involve screens.
Until Next Time,
CAT (the one with the idea)
and Annie (the one with the pen)
What Screen Time Can Really Do to a Kids’ Brain. Psychology Today. 2016.
Screen time use in children under 3 years old: a systematic review of correlates. Duch, et al. 2013.
Television viewing associates with delayed language development. Chonchaiya. 2008.