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What do we know about screen time?

Excessive screen time in small children has been associated with various concerns, including potential impacts on cognitive development, sleep patterns, and social skills.

It’s generally recommended to limit screen time for young children and encourage activities that promote physical, social, and cognitive development. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time for children under 18 months, except for video chatting, and limited, high-quality programming for children aged 18 to 24 months.

For older children, consistent guidelines and balance between screen time and other activities are advised to support healthy development.

 What the studies are saying?

Surveys and studies on children’s screen time provide insights into patterns, effects, and parental attitudes, reflecting a complex picture that varies by region, socioeconomic status, and individual family values.

Key findings from various surveys up until my last update in April 2023 include:

      1.    Increased Screen Time: There has been a noticeable increase in screen time among children, particularly accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many activities online—from schooling to socializing.

      2.    Parental Concerns: Many parents express concerns about their children’s screen time, worried about potential negative impacts on physical health, sleep, and social skills. However, parents also recognize the educational and social benefits that appropriate screen content can provide

      3.    Variation by Age: Screen time tends to increase with age. While infants and toddlers might have very limited exposure, often under parental control, older children and teenagers spend significantly more time on screens, partly due to educational needs and social interactions.

      4.    Impact on Health and Development: Surveys often point to concerns among health professionals about the correlation between excessive screen time and issues like obesity, sleep disturbances, and delays in cognitive and social-emotional development.

      5.    Digital Divide: Surveys also highlight a digital divide, where children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds might either lack access to quality digital content and devices or might spend more time on screens due to less access to alternative recreational and educational activities.

      6.    Parental Management Strategies: Many surveys explore how parents manage screen time, with findings indicating a wide range of approaches, from strict limits and content control to more liberal attitudes, often influenced by the parents’ own screen habits.

      7.    Educational Content vs. Entertainment: There’s a notable distinction in perceptions about screen time that is educational versus purely for entertainment. Parents and educators tend to value screen time that is interactive and educational more positively.

 

It’s important to note that recommendations and attitudes towards children’s screen time are continually evolving as more research becomes available. Experts generally agree on the importance of a balanced approach, encouraging physical activity, face-to-face social interactions, and offline hobbies alongside moderated and meaningful screen use.

Is TV better than screen ? 

The question of whether watching TV is better than using other screens (like smartphones, tablets, or computers) for small children can be complex, largely because the impact depends on content, context, and the way the screen time is managed rather than the type of screen itself. Here are some considerations:

      1.    Content Quality: High-quality, educational content designed for children’s developmental stages can be beneficial on any screen. The key is choosing programs that are age-appropriate and encourage learning, creativity, and interaction.

      2.    Engagement Level: Interactive screen time, such as educational apps or games that stimulate thinking and problem-solving, might offer more developmental benefits than passive TV watching. However, excessive use of interactive screens without breaks can lead to issues like eye strain and decreased physical activity.

      3.    Social Interaction: Watching TV can sometimes be a more social activity if family members watch together and discuss the content. In contrast, the use of tablets or smartphones often tends to be solitary, which might not provide the same social learning opportunities.

      4.    Screen Time Management: Regardless of the screen type, how screen time is managed is crucial. Setting limits, ensuring breaks, and encouraging other activities are important strategies. The context—such as whether the screen time is replacing physical activity or sleep—matters significantly.

      5.    Accessibility and Control: TVs are usually located in common household areas, making it easier for parents to monitor content and viewing time. Handheld devices, on the other hand, can be used anywhere, which might make it more challenging for parents to oversee use.

 Ultimately, the debate isn’t just about TV vs. other screens; it’s more about ensuring that screen time is balanced, age-appropriate, and doesn’t interfere with a child’s sleep, physical activity, and other essential developmental activities. Encouraging active participation, setting clear boundaries, and fostering a diverse range of experiences are key factors in mitigating the potential negative impacts of screen time.

 

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