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Toddlers and screen time – how much is too much?

These days, it is not unusual to see toddlers intuitively swiping screens and confidently pressing buttons on an iPad or similar tablet. But even parents, who enjoy the momentary peace that comes with handing a small child a gadget to play with, worry that this screen time may not be healthy for them. On the other hand, whether you like it or not, technology, in the form of phones and tablets, is here to stay. Many elementary schools and some pre-schools are introducing iPads into the classroom to facilitate learning. So the question isn’t if your child will be computer literate, it’s when — and how soon is too soon to start thinking about technology for children.

How much is too much?

So, what’s good about technology for my toddler?
For young kids technology can fine tune motor skills and improve eye-hand coordination. It can also teach them cause and effect – every button, character or icon they press or swipe causes something to happen. And as technology is becoming more and more prevalent in the schools – it is good for them to become technology literate. And experts say that good-quality programs and specific software can help children with learning difficulties develop the skills they are lacking.

OK, so why not?
More time in front of a screen means less time with other kids – so their social skills may not develop as they should. It also means less time for hands on experience with the real world – touching and feeling real objects which should be part of the development process for any young child. Your toddler may also be over stimulated by all those sensory effects — loud sounds, bold colors, flashing lights, and endless action. And finally, toddlers need physical activity to stimulate growth – to build muscles and learn what their bodies are capable of. More time in front of a screen may be mentally stimulating but reduces good old fashioned physical play time. And some experts say that early screen viewing is likely to lead to long periods of viewing for the rest of your life – in other words – addiction.

I’m confused, what should I do?
Based on current research, here are some rules of thumb, on how to deal with your toddlers and technology:
  • No screen time under the age of 2 - the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 2 have no screen time at all. In 2013 the US Department of Health recommended that children under two years of age should not be in front of a screen at all, and over that age the maximum leisure screen time should be no more than two hours a day.
  • Two hours of screen time each day is enough for children aged six and under (and over two).
  • There is no evidence to suggest screens are unhealthy for young kids.
  • Children typically get bored with one type of media quite quickly, and tend to combine screen time with playing with toys and physical play of themselves.
  • Remember that technology itself doesn't create problems, what matters is what we do with it. Just as you monitor the foods your kids eat, you should introduce quality media when they're ready, help them think about what they see and hear, and make sure they're not sacrificing time for physical activity, family, or friends.
  • Set family rules for screen times. For example: put screens away during meal times.
  • Set an example - ever catch yourself checking your email, using your Smartphone or watching TV while your child is trying to talk to you? Stop using the device and communicate with your child face to face. This will set a good example for the child.
  • No screens before bedtime - take some time between screen time and sleep. Most screens use LCDs that emit a blue light that inhibits sleep and disrupts the body clock.
  • Don’t be afraid of boredom. Being over stimulated is worse than being bored. Children need to learn how to deal with boredom. Learning to cope with boredom leads to greater self sufficiency, and less risk of later become addicted to unhealthy activities.

Tags: online child safety, toddlers, screen time

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