Screen time exploding worryingly for children under 3. What can parents do?

Screen time of American and Canadian infants, toddlers and preschoolers has increased over the last decade, with severe effects on their development, according to two new studies published this month in JAMA Pediatrics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend no screens for babies under 18 months and a maximum of one hour for children between 18 months and 5 years of age, preferably spent on high-quality programs and under supervision by caregivers. The principle “less is better” applies to all children using television, computers and mobile devices, as play and physical activities are preferable.

Is screen time bad for babies and toddlers?

Researchers found that “daily use of television, computers and mobile devices by children increased three-fold from age 12 months to three years, from an average of 53 minutes at 12 months to more than 150 minutes.” More than 79% of children age 2, and nearly 95% of children age 3 in Canada were exceeding the WHO recommendation.

Another study, the first to analyze connections between screen time and children’s development, shows that children who exceeded the recommended screen time had lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter — an area key to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.

Simply put, screen time affects how children play, learn, and form relationships in the long term. Researchers link overuse of screens to the inability to pay attention, behavioral problems, language delay and poor sleep, among others.

What can parents do?

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides a new set of recommendations and resources to help parents make the best decisions and find a balance of online/ offline life:

  • Avoid all screens for children younger than 18 months, except for face-to-face family interactions (video chats)
  • When introducing digital media to children of 18 months or older, choose high-quality programming, and watch it with them to help explain what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day, and view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, monitor and limit screentime.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Talk to children about safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

The AAP has also published an interactive tool that helps families create a personalized media use plan.

Devices are part of our everyday lives, and most people would agree that both children and adults tend to spend to much time on them. It’s ok to have questions or concerns about whether your family has a healthy approach to screen time or whether you are safe using your smart gadgets. We’d love to hear your thoughts, so don’t hesitate to share them with us in the comments section.

One comment

  • By Shell - Reply

    What is a good free android app to limit daily screen time (well access to certain apps), set up time frames when certain apps can be used but allow normal phone use, (eg phone calls in case of emergencies) please?

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