Screen time and early childhood

Akhila Magotra
In the digital age, screens have become ubiquitous in our daily lives and it is no surprise that toddlers and preschoolers are also exposed to them. While technology can provide educational benefits, excessive screen time can have detrimental effects on a child’s development. Let us try and explore the negative impact of screen time on toddlers and preschoolers and offer strategies for parents to limit their children’s screen time effectively. First things first. Let us identify the Hazards of Excessive Screen Time:
Developmental Delays: Excessive screen time can hinder the development of crucial early skills such as language, social interaction and fine motor skills. Children need hands-on experiences and human interactions to foster these skills. Researchers have found that increased screen time in young children was associated with delays in the development of cognitive and social-emotional skills.
Reduced Physical Activity: Extended screen time often results in a sedentary lifestyle, which can contribute to childhood obesity. Outdoor play and physical activities are essential for a child’s health and development. Excessive screen time leads to lower levels of physical activity which can contribute to health issues. Outdoor games and interactions on field in nature’s lap not only improve the social skills but also improves ecological sensitivity of the children.
Sleep Disruption: The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with a child’s sleep patterns, leading to poor-quality sleep and daytime drowsiness. Adequate and quality sleep is crucial for children’s overall well-being, as it plays a fundamental role in their physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Chronic sleep disruption can hinder the secretion of growth hormone, potentially leading to slower physical development. Establishing a bedtime routine that does not involve screens is crucial.
Behavioral Issues: Excessive screen time has been linked to attention problems, aggression, and mood swings in young children. It can disrupt the development of self-regulation and impulse control. Published Research has corroborated a correlation between high screen time in toddlers and an increased risk of behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, inattention, and aggression.
Content Exposure: Age-Inappropriate content or violence can be encountered accidentally, and young children may struggle to process or understand such content, leading to anxiety or desensitization. Toddlers are at a stage in their development where their minds are highly impressionable and sensitive to external stimuli. Exposure to content that is not age-appropriate can affect them with Emotional Distress as they may not have the cognitive capacity to understand or process violent, scary, or otherwise disturbing content. Exposure to such content can lead to fear, anxiety, and nightmares, causing emotional distress, confusion and behavioral changes.
Having said that if there is a problem, solution is also there. I have tried to collate indicative strategies for Effective Screen Time Management especially for toddlers/preschoolers.
Establish Screen-Free Zones: Designate specific areas in your home where screens are not allowed. This could include the dining room, bedrooms, and play areas to encourage other activities. Though it looks a very simple step but trust me by creating spaces where screens are not allowed, parents and caregivers help children develop healthy relationships with technology, which can influence their behavior and habits as they grow into adults. Screen-free zones teach preschoolers the importance of setting boundaries between technology and real-world interactions.
Set Time Limits: Determine daily or weekly screen time limits for your child and stick to them. Use timers or parental control apps to enforce these limits. Published studies suggest that setting time limits for screen use can help reduce the risk of sleep disturbances and behavioral problems in young children
High-Quality Content: Choose educational and age-appropriate content. There are numerous apps and programs designed to enhance learning, so opt for those that align with your child’s developmental stage.
Co-Viewing and Discussion: If your child does watch screens, make it a shared experience. Watch together and discuss the content, emphasizing critical thinking and media literacy.
Encourage Active Play: Promote physical activities, such as outdoor play, puzzles, arts and crafts, and reading, to balance screen time with real-world experiences.
Be a Role Model: Children often mimic their parents’ behaviors. If they see you spending excessive time on screens, they may think it’s acceptable. Be a positive role model by managing your screen time too.
Turn Off Screens Before Bed: Establish a screen-free period at least one hour before bedtime to help your child wind down and sleep better.
It can be safely concluded that while screens are an integral part of modern life and cannot be dispensed with completely, it is crucial for parents to recognize the potential negative impact of excessive screen time on toddlers and preschoolers. By implementing these strategies and being mindful of how screens are integrated into their children’s lives, parents can help create a healthier, more balanced environment that fosters optimal development and well-being for their little angels.
(The author is an Early Childhood Educationist & Social Entrepreneur)