Written by Caroline Meyer
There is still an ongoing debate around how much screen time is too much. There are people on both ends of the extreme. Parents that use technology to babysit their kids and have them on tablets, phones or watching TV most of their awake time. Parents that refuse to allow kids to touch technology and would never allow them to use a PC or smartphone. While it is recommended that screen time be limited, the world is becoming more and more digital and it is impractical to have your children avoid all contact with technology. The limits for screen time should be age appropriate and should be mitigated with other activities that include movement, bonding, educating and so forth. It is also important to monitor the screen time as far as possible and even engage along with the child in the enjoyment of technology as far as time allows.
What is quite interesting to note is that more than 42% of children under 8 years old already have access to a tablet or similar technology and this percentage is growing steadily. In comparison, in 2013, only around 7% of children 0 to 8 years old had a tablet. Many of these children were using the devices for 2 or more hours a day. At a young age, this is potentially far too much exposure.
Using technology as a development aid or a learning device is far less detrimental than sitting a kid in front of a TV to watch endless, mindless movies. Digital babysitters such as tablets and TVs are being used more and more to keep children occupied instead of helping them develop and learn. Use apps and programs that allow the child to interact and engage with technology and learn in the process. Using technology can help children learn in different ways than those they are usually exposed to in the classroom.
When looking at “screen time” it is important to note that not all screen time is equal. Time spent learning and developing, interacting with technology, trumps time spent lounging on the couch watching a movie for the 40th time. While that may quieten a child down before bed, there is very little other use for it, making it less valuable than tech time that teaches. It is important to look at the best tech and apps based on a child’s age and level of development.
Screen time for babies under the age of 18 months is of no real use unless it is a short period spent interacting with others such as video chatting with relatives. Little ones do not get much benefit from tech in any other way and are unable to use it themselves independently until they are around 1.5 years old. They can then be taught some basics and be allowed to use minimal tech, under constant supervision. This time can be used to encourage gross-motor skills and the concept of sharing.
Some ideas for introducing toddlers to technology includes: voice chatting or video chatting with family that are far away, playing music to dance to, colour and shape learning apps or video playdates with friends. As they advance you can move to more advanced play such as creating stories and videos to share with family and friends. You can collaborate with your child by adding in music and editing their video or helping put together a stop-motion animation for their story using available apps.
For kids closer to pre-school age, you can start to look at apps and games that promote literacy. Games that include drag and drop develop movement and some computer literacy skills. Word games that include sounding out words, finding words and saying words improve spelling and vocabulary. Interactive videos and e-books help promote literacy and engage young children so they retain what they have learned.
School-going children under 12 will have developed a feel for technology by this point and are usually far more comfortable with tech than many adults. At this point they will probably want their own smart phones and will often start to get involved with social media. They will also likely be playing online games and interacting with friends using tech. That doesn’t mean that learning through tech has to stop at that point. Limit the screen time being used for games, social interactions and the like and steer their attention to using technology for learning and development as well.
Technology can be used to research their hobbies and interests and delve deeper in to fields that interest them. Encourage them to read e-books and watch videos pertaining to the things they enjoy and even to learn things they may be struggling with at school. Encourage them to take part in programs that help them create their own books or music or get involved in other creative pursuits. Allowing them to dig deeper into things that interest them will encourage self-teaching and prepare them to use tech as a tool for learning.
While there are no set times for each age group of how much time is too much, too much of a good thing is generally bad. For under 18 months, screen time should be severely restricted. After that point, ensure your child is getting all the nurturing they need including movement, bonding, joint playtime, interaction with parents, siblings and friends and that they are developing at the rate they should. You can then decide how much time you should allow them in front of a screen.