Screen Time for Kids

Today I want to address this question:

“What’s the big deal if a child is watching cartoons or nursing rhymes or playing games?”

This was the question my client, Sujata’s mother-in-law asked me during our Eat Right consultation for her 3 year old grandson, Aryan. Among other factors that contributed to his fussy eating habit, Aryan needed to be fed every meal while he was either watching or playing on the iPad. When we calculated Aryans total screen time we realized that on average he was on the screen for 3.5 -6 hours. This is not calculating the fact that through the TV would be on for other family members and Aryan would sometimes hang and watch snippets or entire shows with them too. Sujata knew that this practice was not right but was unable to stop it because Aryan refused to open his mouth till the iPad was given to him.  One of our first steps was to stop the use of the iPad for all meals…and believe it or not, our little Aryan stopped even thinking of the iPad as part of meal time within 4 days - much to Sujata and her mother-in-law's surprise.

Anyway back to the question that Sujata’s mother-in-law innocently asked me -

What’s the big deal if a child is enjoying watching cartoons, nursing rhymes or playing games?”

It has been seen that parents commonly give their child screen time to deal with situations like:

  •       getting them to eat their meal.
  •        to stop whining or tantrum behavior
  •        to get their own work done.
  •        to help unwind or calm their child to fall sleep.

 As parents we genuinely try to do the best we know. But often times we may know right from wrong but may struggle to implement these rules effectively. Screen time in toddlers has been on the rise in the last few years. And there has been enough research done in this space to make us realize that it is important to restrict and curb this habit in babies and toddlers.  

I strongly recommend that parents follow the guidelines of the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics’’) which suggests the following:

     Under 18 months - avoid use of screen/media other than video-chatting with family.

 18 - 24 months      - Choose high-quality programming, and Parents are advised to watch it with their children to help them understand what they are seeing

 2 -5 years                  - Limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Again, parents should be watching it with their children.

 6 years and older  - Place consistent limits, ensure screen time doesn’t impact physical exercise and sleep.

So what does excessive screen time do? Several studies have shown us that when children are exposed to excessive screen time for their age may have the following concerns:

-       Delay in Language development: This is one of the most common delays that is noticed. Studies have shown that the more number of screen hours a 4 year old had, the lesser the number of words they learned. It has been proven that young children don’t learn effectively from watching something on a screen even if it was educational content. 

-       Social and emotional development: When babies/toddlers watch too much screen they in fact seem to display difficulty in managing their emotions and understanding others emotions.  When children are focused on their screens they miss out on person to person communication and listening skills. This impacts their ability to listen and speak accurately.

-   Reality vs Fiction: Younger children often get confused about what is real and unreal on screen. Children may not realize that the characters they are watching are not real but imaginary. Similarly they may not realize that the fictional character can do things that real people cant do, or that punching may be funny in a cartoon but is not funny in real.

-   Obesity : Many researchers have drawn a connection between too much screen time and  obesity in preschool years and beyond. This is starting to become a big concern with this generation. Children who spend a lot of time on a screen miss out on all the physical activity and movement they would have had if they didn’t do excessive screen time.

-   Sleep TroublesJust as adults are advised to not spend time on their phones or devices before bed time, the same applies to babies and toddlers. AAP guidelines suggest not having a TV or any other screen like phones or tablets in a child’s bedroom. Even a small amount of the light is suspected to delay melatonin release which is important for good quality sleep. Sleep is one of the most important contributors to a child’s mental, physical and emotional health and must be given it due importance.  

        Main concerns with excessive screen time are:

- Impact on cognitive and physical development,

- Delayed motor skills,

- Impact on sleep onset/quantity/quality and,

- Delay in development of language and sociability skills

- Impact on the emotional growth of the child.

So while it is fine to have some device time after your child is 18 months of age, it is important to be mindful of how much screen time your child, ensure you are watching it with your baby and ensure your baby has more interactive play with a real person than a device!

Do you need any help with your child's device habit - is it started to affect your child's sleep, eating habits or overall behavior - Contact me and lets see how we can work it out together.