Your Child and Screen Time

We have all seen this! You’re at a restaurant and you look across the way and right before your eyes---a whole family completely unaware of each other. Everyone at the table is on a device—kids on tablets and parents on smartphones!

Thu, Nov 14, 2019

In this day and age, it would be hard to live without our devices. Most of us are on them constantly to email, use apps, and send texts. Are we “device dependent?” We can all admit to being at lunch when a simple question comes up that no one has the answer to. Invariably, you whip out your smart phone to search the Internet. We have information at our fingertips!

Fast Facts about Screen Time: Did You Know?

James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, stated that screen time is “fundamentally redefining childhood experiences” with “enormous implications we have just begun to understand.”

  • The average child age 8 and under in the United States uses more than three personal tech devices—such as a tablet, smartphone, or video game console—at home
  • The average amount of time our smallest children spend with those handheld devices each day is increasing, too: from five minutes a day in 2011, to 15 minutes a day in 2013, to 48 minutes a day in 2017.
  • 42 percent of young children now have their very own tablet device — up from 7 percent four years ago and less than 1 percent in 2011.
  • Nearly half, 49 percent, of children 8 or under “often or sometimes” use screens in the hour before bedtime, which experts say is bad for sleep habits ( Kamenetz, A., 2017)

Is Screen Time Bad For Children?

With all the educational apps, and TV shows, how bad is screen time really? Is it helpful or harmful? What is a parent to think?

The reality is that there are many variables here. Of course, there are some benefits as children needs to learn to access technology for later learning. The question becomes how much time should be allowed and what type or quality of programming the child is exposed to.

Let’s Get Educated!

Screen Time For Kids: 2 Years or Younger

DON’T Do It! The American Academy of Pediatrics is advising against any screen time at all for children younger than two years with the exception of video chatting.

WHY? Studies have shown that heavy screen time for kids younger than 2 years old can cause:

  • Expressive language delays - Toddlers interactions with toys are usually in the context of people. They need to freely interact, explore, and test everything in the environment. Children need to interact with adults to learn how to speak. Screen time takes away from “talk time.” (See above)
  • Attention problems in school - Children may develop attention issues. This may stem from play constantly being interrupted by the TV. (Park, J., Jan. 2019)
  • Sleep disturbances - TV before naps and bedtime may interrupt sleep. This is something no parent wants to deal with. Children also need sleep for proper development. (See above)

Screen Time For Kids: 2 Years and Older

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends very cautious usage for children two to five years of age with no more than one hour of “high-quality programming.” It’s important, they note, for parents to recognize that not all screen time is created equal. Some TV shows, games and apps are more developmentally appropriate for preschool children than others. Additionally, it is important for parent to watch with their children to help them understand exactly what they are seeing, avoiding solo media use by children. It’s important, they note, for parents to recognize that not all screen time is created equal. Some TV shows, games and apps are more developmentally appropriate for preschool children than others.

It does get a little tricky! There are of course some studies that have shown some benefits:

Benefits of High-Quality Programs:

  • Improved eye hand coordination and spatial skills
  • Improved school readiness
  • Improved problem solving

Too much screen time for children can lead to less time to read to your child at a time when reading is crucial. Sleep interference has been documented, and it gives your child less time for imaginary play which is important for cognitive and social development.

The easiest and most effective way that children learn is simply by talking. Studies have proven the link between the number and variety of words a child hears and later academic achievement.

Screen Time For Kids: School-Age Children

As your child grows, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work as well. Your family needs a common sense plan. You’ll need to decide how much media to let your child use each day and what’s appropriate. Set reasonable limits for your child’s screen time, especially if your child’s use of screens is hindering involvement in other activities. Make sure there is unplugged, unstructured time. Encourage times, such as dinner, when no one brings any technology to the table. Unless technology is required for the homework task, make sure it is not present. Every family needs to set and enforce daily or weekly screen time limits. There are apps that control the length of time a child can use a device. It is helpful to have your children charge their devices outside of their bedrooms at night.

Keep Communication a Priority

As Speech-Language Pathologists we always say that person to person communication is critical. We need to keep communication with each other as a high priority all the time. The American Speech Language and Hearing Associations recommends 10 Tips for Managing Kids’ Tech Time.

  • Create tech-free times. Find at least one or two opportunities during the day—at the dinner table, for example—for everyone to disconnect. Mealtime is a prime opportunity for conversation. Make a commitment and have everyone check their devices at the kitchen door.
  • Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Fifty-five percent of parents worry that they rely on technology too much to keep their child entertained, according to the ASHA poll. Roughly half of parents say that they are using technology as a means to keep kids age 0–3 entertained. Remember that the best opportunities for conversation and learning are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip—particularly for the youngest children. While it may be tempting, try to resist the urge to immediately turn to these devices as a source of entertainment.
  • Don’t overestimate the value of educational apps. Children learn best simply through talking, conversing, and reading. Technology is not the best way to teach, though it can reinforce and allow practice of skills under development.
  • Make tech use a group activity. While it is most often used on an individual basis, tech use can be turned into a group activity, such as while playing an online game. Talk about what you’re doing!
  • Consider whether young kids really need their own devices. It is not uncommon for kids to have their own tablets or phones. Many are designed and marketed specifically for kids. This may lead to more time spent alone with technology throughout the day. On the other hand, devices designed for kids often offer additional features that appeal to parents, such as limited (kid-appropriate) content and extra security options, so this is a balance for parents to consider.
  • Set daily time limits. Some devices can be programmed by parents to shut off after a certain amount of time, but you can also make a child aware of the time limit and keep track yourself.
  • Be consistent in enforcing the parameters you set for tech use. ASHA’s poll found a majority of parents report setting limitations on their children’s tech use. However, the reality of their children’s tech use often doesn’t line up with the set restrictions, by parents’ own accounts. Moreover, adherence often seems to break down at ages 7 or 8 despite the rule’s parents say they set.
  • Always practice safe listening, especially when using ear buds or headphones. Misuse of this technology can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Even minor hearing loss takes a significant toll academically, socially, vocationally, and in other ways, so prevent the preventable. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and take listening breaks.
  • Model the tech habits you want your kids to adopt. Practice what you preach when it comes to tech time and safe-listening habits.
  • Learn the signs of communication disorders. This is important for all parents, regardless of their children’s technology use. Early treatment can prevent or reverse many communication disorders. Parents should not wait to see if a child “outgrows” a suspected speech or hearing problem. If you have any question about your child’s speech or hearing, seek an assessment from a speech-language pathologist or audiologist.

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