I think we can all acknowledge the convenience of using the TV or a tablet to keep our toddlers busy while we try to get simple tasks done like making dinner or grocery shopping. It keeps them quiet and entertained, and maybe they’ll learn something educational along the way.
However, more and more research is emerging about the consequences of screen time on children, particularly toddlers. Earlier this year, JAMA Pediatrics published a study following approximately 2400 Canadian children and their use of screen time. Screen time included TV, video, gaming, tablet use, mobile phone, or any other screen based device. The results aren’t too surprising:
Basically, the kids with higher screen time had less opportunity to engage in imaginative play, social interaction, and gross motor skills, leading to poor scoring on screening tests. However, they do go on to say that it’s unclear if the children with developmental delays received these higher amounts of screen time as a way of regulating challenging behaviour often tied with developmental delays, or if the higher screen time actually caused the delays.
According to the article, some toddlers were getting up to 4 hours a day of screen time.
Dunckley goes on to explain the physical changes seen in MRI’s of the brain facing screen addiction, with some disturbing results including literal structural changes in several different parts of the brain, with atrophy to the core processing gray matter area.
All in all, it can safely be said that screen time does have an effect on the developing brain, but we may not know the full extent.
I know it can be challenging to start making changes to how much screen time your children are exposed to, especially with the ever-present cell phone trend and social pressure for children to fit in. However once you really start delving into what it could be doing to your child’s development, it might be easier to start implementing changes.
Limiting screen time for my children was a personal decision my husband and I made several years ago. During a move, we took down our TV and simply never set it back up in the new house. I think it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, personally. Our 3 year old gets about 30 minutes of screen time, once or twice a month, watching a video on our 10 year old first generation iPad. The rest of the time, we are encouraging imaginative play, creativity, and spending time outdoors.
I’m not going to say it’s easy, as there are times when I’m trying to prep dinner and the kids are arguing over a toy, that it would be so convenient to set them up with a screen to watch to keep them occupied. But I also feel that there’s value in letting them sort out their issues and for them to develop self directed play abilities.
I also know that it will be difficult to limit screens as they grow up. Most elementary schools have tablets right in the classrooms now, and they’ll inevitably watch TV and videos in their friend’s homes as well. But I’ll keep trying to do what I can at home to limit screen time instead of adding to the amount they’ll receive elsewhere.