Are you a parent who has often felt guilty for how much screen time you have permitted your child to consume? I for sure, am one of those parents.
Our son loves his programmes… and I have often felt guilty for the amount of time I have permitted him to sit in front of a screen absorbing fast motioned visuals.
How much is too much?
As someone who is passionate about child development, I did some of my own research into the effects of screen time, soon after our son was born. Some said, screen time led to delayed development in children. Whilst there were also findings that small amounts of screen time were OK and even suggested that interactive screen time could be beneficial i.e., when parents or guardians discuss with the child what is being watched.
I am a strong observer of our son and noticed that Zachariah had a very good attention span from early on and followed storylines and plots. When he was about 7 months old, he would laugh during funny scenes of Peter Rabbit and looked concerned when something mischievous was about to happen. He would watch an entire animated movie from beginning to end before he was 1 years old!
Did I want to remove this enjoyment from him completely? To be honest, there were times when I did and times when I didn’t.
So, whenever Zachariah was watching something on TV, I would make it a point for discussion. We would speak about the characters, the scenes, the colours, the letters, the words, sing the nursery rhymes together etc.
I did this because I wanted him to form in his mind the understanding that screen time was not for mere consumption but could be used as a time to ask questions, stimulation, and an opportunity to learn and develop.
However, I do believe too much screen time can have negative consequences. So, I feel it’s important to observe and know your child. I have noticed that too much screen time can cause children to have selective listening. So, they can become less focused, unresponsive to instructions and conversation.
If you are concerned about the impact screen time is having on your child, these are some warning signs to look out for.
1. When children are so absorbed in the screen that they ignore instructions. Pay particular attention to when they become absent minded during non-screen times.
2. When children no longer give you eye contact when speaking to you.
3. When children cry excessively to watch their programmes. You want to avoid any form of addictive behaviour.
4. When children become hyperactive more than usual.
5. When they appear mentally unrested.
6. When they struggle to sleep at night.
7. When they struggle to focus on a practical activity such as drawing, painting, writing, reading etc.
8. When they are uninterested in conversations with people.
Now, every child is different, and I do not claim to be a medical expert but from my experience, I have observed a difference in our child when he has absorbed too much screen time and have been quick to ensure he has a digital hiatus.
Nonetheless, I do believe there are some huge positives with the information available to children through the screen and our son has developed a wide range of vocabulary, some of which he has learnt from watching fun programmes with an educational element.
For example, through watching programmes which show prehistoric animals, our son has learned how to recognise and name many dinosaurs species and extinct creatures. The other day he told us about Barnum Brown, we thought he said Gordon Brown hahaha. In fact, he said his name perfectly correct and explained, he was the man who discovered the dinosaurs. So, we Googled the person, and he was indeed the American palaeontologist who was the first person to discover the bones of Tyrannosaurus Rex during the late Victorian era.
This is just one example of the knowledge our 4-year-old has acquired through watching educational programmes.
So, how can we as parents make screen time a positive experience for small children?
Here are some thoughts from my experience:
1. Always speak to your child about what they are watching. Ask them questions, which will encourage their inquisitiveness.
2. Monitor closely what they are watching and ensure they are not being exposed to adverts on YouTube which are not suitable for their age (if possible, use YouTube Kids which is ad free).
3. Do not permit them to hold electronic devices in their hands for long periods due to the radiation.
4. Do not permit them to feel as though they have control over what they are watching. Develop a culture where they must ask permission before they watch a particular programme.
5. Give them time limits.
6. Ensure there is a balance, and they have a healthy amount of practical exercises to engage with like puzzles, drawing, painting, story time, reading, writing, sports, musical instruments, outdoor play etc.
7. Give them regular breaks from screen time. Have days when there’s no screen time permitted at all.
8. Ensure they are not sitting too close to the screen which can be damaging to the eyes or that that it’s too bright. Where possible opt for screen time on the TV rather than small screens which they sit closer to.
9. Ensure your children have a good posture (think about a desk risk assessment in the workplace). Ensure their necks are not too bent forward or backwards and the screen is at eye level.
10. Make screen time fun and educational.
11. Never substitute screen for one-to-one interaction. Children need to have social interaction to develop and become all-rounded individuals.
12. Do not substitute reading physical books for reading online.
13. Discuss with your children the negatives about watching too much screen time, so they are well informed.
I hope you have benefited from this blog. I am fully aware there are those who have opted for no screen time at all. Please do share how you are achieving this and for those who permit their children to view digital content, I would love to hear how you are managing.
Have a great weekend!