Life,  Wellness

The Effects of Screen Time On Your Toddler

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:

"Higher levels of screen time in children aged 24 and 36 months were associated with poor performance on a screening measure assessing children’s achievement of development milestones at 36 and 60 months, respectively."

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.

Another article on Psychology Today points to “electronic screen syndrome”, where the author, an M.D., describes symtpoms she often sees in children such as “sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system.”

"These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention."

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. 

Do you limit screen time in your home? What is the hardest part about it? Comment below!

8 Comments

  • AV

    My daughter is only 8 months old now so screen time hasn’t really affected her yet – that I have noticed. She really doesn’t pay much attention to the tv when it is on, which I do have it or music playing on it as background something or other at home. I kind of fear the day it starts effecting her more, but also am excited to just get more creative with the things we do at home and/or just get outside even more than we do
    But I have definitely heard of how much it can effect a child’s sleep.

    • Brittany

      It’s definitely feels like you’re challenging a generational thing when you cut down on what kinds of screens your kids can watch and how much. We all grew up with TV and or video games at home it effected us all in different ways. Today however, with social media, I’m a bit fearful for what it will be like to be a teen in 10 years when my kids get there. So for now I’ll try to keep it to a minimum!

  • Alexandra Furey

    I see what you’re saying in reference to raising children and it rings true for adults as well. I have a love/hate relationship with the internet, my phone and social media in general. I struggle constantly to find the balance between beneficial screen time and anxiety inducing.

    Anxiety seems to be more widespread and rampant than ever and I wonder if it’s because we’re communicating more through devices and have less exposure to engaging in person. I really believe conversation is an art and something we need to practice to be good at! The more exposure there is, the less intimidating it is and screen time takes away from really being present.

    • Brittany

      I agree that social media is responsible for a lot of anxiety these days. Aside from not being in the present moment which is a huge issue, there’s the other aspect of constantly comparing yourself to others.

      Definitely a different world for our children than the one we grew up in!

  • Terra

    I completely agree that screen time needs to be limited especially at a younger age. If you don’t set limits early you most likely won’t later, before you know it you’ll have a 15 year old who has no interest in doing anything if it isn’t online and on a screen.

  • Lucie

    Hi,

    I have a 6 month old so at the moment it’s not an issue and I can work next to her sometimes, but I do worry if this is going to change. I plan on continuing at home with her alongside my blog, so am wondering on alternatives to screen time?

    I want to keep it at a real minimum for her, we live in the countryside too and don’t own a television so we have an advantage…

    Thanks for the post!

    Lucie

    • Brittany

      Thanks for sharing Lucie!

      It’s definitely tough sometimes to not have the crutch of screen time to lean on. But I do believe it’s so much better for the kids to keep it to a minimum.

      We encourage independent play with toys such as our play kitchen, train tracks, water table outside in the summer, that kind of thing.

      Pinterest is also a great resource for finding easy set-up activities that keep little ones engaged long enough to get a bit of blog work done!

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