There are times when you will take short cuts and it is perfectly natural and okay to do so. The world in which you work and exist has seemingly become much busier. There are more stresses and strains on your everyday life. Quick and simple solutions are therefore extremely tempting to follow. But the quick route is not always the best.
If you are buying a gift for example, isn’t it easier to search for baby soft toys online, rather than go to the shops? Of course it is. But what if that gift is for your own toddler, would it not perhaps be better to attend a shop with them and select a toy together. Here there is more bonding and personal time spent together as parent and child. Of course this is not always possible, and buying baby soft toys online is so much easier now because people have demanded that service!
But what about other factors when it comes to your toddler? Here we specifically look at the issue of screen time and why you should be limiting screen time for toddlers. Nobody is suggesting for one moment that you are making decisions without concern for your child, of course you love them and want them to develop, grow, learn and most of all be happy. But if you’re thinking that maybe you do sometimes pick the quickest way to do things, be that at mealtimes, or placing your toddler in front of a screen for entertainment, then read on to see how your decisions, though always well intended, could be tweaked and improved a little.
Today they are so much more prevalent. Many years ago there simply wasn’t any other option in terms of screens other than sitting your toddler in front of the television. Go back a little further still and even this was impossible.
But now we nearly all carry powerful computers and devices with us every day, and they are seldom anywhere other than in our hands or at best tucked into a pocket. The mobile phones and reading devices that you use regularly are much more powerful than the original computers. You can communicate, write, read and most of all watch. Therefore the temptation is always present too. If you want to distract a toddler for any amount of time, it is very easy to pass them your phone, and put on a video or cartoon etc. But why is it potentially bad?
You need to consider how you are using the screens themselves. Generally, screens are being used as a distraction technique, to occupy the toddler or child whilst the parent does something else. They are used to keep the child quiet, to calm them down and to get them to sit still. Trying to achieve all of these things is difficult enough, so when there is the possibility of a shortcut, why wouldn’t somebody simply pass a screen over?
The difficulty firstly is that it can limit a child’s opportunity to develop the appropriate skills for their age. It interrupts the development in terms of cognitive function, i.e. the ability to focus attention and thoughts; emotional development, the ability to stay calm and recovery when upset; and finally physiological, or how behaviours or actions are managed.
Building these skills, like anything else in life takes practice and repetition. However, the development is interrupted through the distraction of a screen. Therefore the growth is restricted because it is not needed at that moment. The screen in essence halts the development.
Think about an upset child – you’ve all experienced one on many occasions no doubt. If every time the child is upset it is sat with You Tube videos, that child is not developing the skill to calm themselves down. It is the same for a child who needs to be engaged with a screen in order to stay at the table during mealtimes. Yes they’ll sit there, but they are not engaging in the process, nor learning what is normal behaviour – they come to see the screen as part of mealtime, when perhaps it should never be so. This self-regulation will be critical when they start school and where they’ll need to sit quietly and pay attention, all without a screen.
Another problem that is often missed when it comes to the use of screens is the level of stimulation that a child is subjected to. Screens are not necessarily the calming influence that they appear to be. Yes, the child becomes quiet, but much more is happening at a deeper level.
They are becoming stimulated and distracted. Even if the body is not engaged in the process, the mind is like a sponge and it absorbs all that is happening, which can almost overload a small child at times. When a child then needs to “rest” this is automatically associated with screen time, and less stimulating activities such as reading or drawing etc. quickly fall out of favour because the brain needs all of the input it has got used to. The over use of screen time can also affect the quality of sleep, as even long after the screen is turned off, the mind is still working overtime. You all know that poor sleep is the last thing that any developing child needs!
New studies have shown that there is a direct link between the amount of screen time that a child has and their risk of being obese. Indeed it has been found that the amount of screen time needs to be limited to 90 minutes per day, otherwise obesity can become a real risk.
It is suggested that only over four year olds should engage in regular screen time, and then for only up to this hour and a half a day. There is a risk to cognitive, physical and mental health if this is exceeded regularly. Of course there will be times when they see a little more, but try and also make sure that there are times when they see a little less too. It is an average for you to aim for is perhaps the best way of looking at it.
When you consider that some nine year olds are engaged in seven plus hours of screen time daily, you’ll not be surprised as to how impactful that can be. When you’re looking at a screen you’re generally inactive. It is however difficult for people to escape from given the prevalence and availability of screens. There is also a pressure to engage more online whenever possible that runs across society as a whole. Establishing patterns and behaviours in your toddlers can be a great way of avoiding this becoming a problem for them in later childhood. It is however a difficult battle.
You all want the best for your child. You want them to be happy and healthy, engaged and most of all for them to enjoy life. The decisions that you make from time to time may seem innocent but they can eventually, if continued, lead to possible problems in the future. Of course you would never make a decision to put your child at risk, but it may be that some choices are inadvertently doing just that. The level of childhood activity has dropped with increased screen time, and hence obesity levels are rising. At the same time the behavioural patterns and development of individual children can be show to have suffered through an over exposure to excessive screen time. It may therefore seem like a simple solution, and from time to time it may well indeed be the right thing to do. It is important however that it does not become habitual, nor does it become the only option.
Yes it may be hard for you to refuse screen time, especially if it is already established in an everyday routine, but there must be a time for change and that time is now. So talk with your child, listen to them, engage with them and take the small steps to making their future more sound. You love them, and you want to always do the best for them, so now is perhaps the time to take the difficult steps and to start afresh. Good luck and stay strong.