How much screen exposure is ok for kids?

How much screen exposure is ok for kids?

“PAW Patrol is a big thing here — their faces are on my kid’s t-shirt and trackie bottoms — that’s all he’ll wear!” 

“Our Nelly wants the characters from Frozen on all her stuff.”

“You don’t have to tell me... That Bing creature, I can’t stand the sight of him any more!”

Does this kind of talk sound familiar? Standing round the playground or at the school gates, parents often unwittingly divide themselves into two camps: Camp A would never put a mobile device in a child’s hand. Camp B, on the other hand, gratefully welcomes the use of all digital devices. So who is right? Are mobile phones, televisions, and computers harming our children?

A good servant but a bad master.

Like mankind’s other inventions, digital conveniences can serve us well but they make lousy masters. In recent decades, technological development has skyrocketed. It surrounds us. Don’t you yourself sometimes feel that today things are somehow faster, that you’re always rushed, that everyone expects an answer right away? Information is available in one to three clicks; we’re in constant touch with everyone we know, and when the kids are bored, we reach for a device to entertain them. Solved. Or is it?

We may feel like we’re handling everything just fine, but we should remember that our own brains have yet to adjust to the current situation. Never before have people been so overwhelmed by information. The brain is an amazing organ. From birth, it works hard to learn the ‘pathways’ it needs to use to think. These pathways are created by comparing experiences. In practice, this means that the more varied the stimuli that enters, the denser the network of pathways that our brains can take in thinking. It’s also true that early-childhood is the ripest period for imparting and reinforcing healthy and beneficial habits that inform the child’s values. It is a time to explain to children how things work. And this includes technology.

So how much time can children spend in front of screens? 

The World Health Organisation’s verdict seems severe at first glance: children under the age of one should not watch any TV at all; two-year-olds should spend no more than one hour a day watching screens; and three- and four-year-olds should also not spend more than an hour on a mobile phone, computer, or TV. Sitting in front of screens for long periods of time can impair the development of motor skills and expressive abilities; it can also leave a child unable to solve a variety of problems and reduce their attention-span and creative abilities. You’ve probably encountered attention and mood issues if you’ve let your child watch too much TV — they tend to become fractious, obnoxious and unfocused. This is furthered when there’s a lack of a good night’s sleep. In the evening, specifically, the blue light emitted by screens can make it harder for children to fall asleep and for them to stay asleep.

So what is the solution? You don’t have to lock the devices in the drawer or get rid of them. It’s a good idea to consider not putting children near screens, tempting as though it often is, since somehow household chores go more slowly with an inquisitive toddler running around. But you could try to involve your child in the housework, and in turn, you could be involved in their screen time — if you choose to give them some. When kids do watch TV, it’s a good idea to choose programmes designed for them or that you have personally approved, and avoid programmes that are too ‘flashy’. Fast cuts and action sequences are too intense for children’s brains, which are highly sensitive to stimuli. Additionally, such exposure risks setting false expectations which demand that the real world is similarly action-packed — resulting in the child not being able to be entertained satisfactorily by games and toys and such. 

Talk to your child about what they watch, what they think about it, what the game they are playing is about... In this way, we encourage children to think and speak, helping them to develop their vocabulary, and at the same time we can keep an eye on the content and see how the story, series, or game is affecting the child. It’s good to keep track. For instance, if we know they have been frightened by something, we have an idea of why they came up with all sorts of questions later, and we are also alerted to any potential triggers. This equally applies to other activities, for instance when we read together. Their favourite storybook characters can then be linked to an art activity, an outdoor activity, or spark a search for more information to explore via the internet or library books.

Show children how to make sensible use of technology.

We can’t expect to keep our child away from all devices, even if we wanted to, and perhaps even if we didn’t use them ourselves in front of them. A much more viable way is to show them HOW to use them well. Even young children need to be told what they can and cannot do on a mobile phone or computer, and why we shouldn’t spend all day in front of a screen. With older kids, don’t forget to talk about safety — the rules that apply to online environments: what sites not to visit, why not to share personal information or videos of your home, and so forth. You can show them how to use the browser to find answers to questions about dinosaurs, diggers, or any other subject that might come up. You will know which apps are best for them to use according to their abilities. For instance, it can be good for them to know how to find public transport connections. And it’s also handy to phone the grandparents via an app, especially if they live faraway. Showing your child how to contact emergency services is important too. In the ‘fun’ apps category, Readmio app is set-up such that kids can scroll the selection and choose a story themselves — even before they can read, based on the picture alone. All they then need to do is arrange a time when you can read it to them.

Let’s show our child that technology is part of our lives, and that our devices are useful tools. Let’s not use these devices as a reward or punishment (You can only watch TV if you tidy up!) or indeed as a means to distract them or get them out of your way, however tempting it is. Young children learn almost everything from their parents and siblings — the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Which reminds us to keep ourselves fit and strong.


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