The Impact of Screen-time in the Learning and Development of Children

The Elephant in the room, that I wasn’t addressing for a while. The reason being, a lot of negative hype in the media rather than positive outcomes. My intention is not to take sides, but to present the recent researches in the field and later on share my first-hand experience managing screen-time with my daughter. As much as parenting is trial and error, screen-time was no different.

I am getting into murky waters here! When you are in the field of early language and communication development, people watch you like a hawk to see, whether you practice what you preach.

I am not judging you as a parent giving I-pad to feed your toddler, who hasn’t eaten a single meal in a day. I am not judging you, because you are shattered and tired after a whole day of work, and the only thing you want to do is bear-hug with your little one and watch television. I am not judging you, because you don’t have a nanny, and you are trying to have a meal with your husband in a restaurant and the only way to keep your little one occupied is give your phone or I-pad. Well, I have done all this and much more and still do. Guilty as charged!

My daughter goes to no technology nursery. She loves it there, but does she have access to I-pad or TV at home? Oh, yes!

I believe, technology is ubiquitous. I don’t think we can keep our children away from it. It’s like the forbidden fruit. They would always want to get a taste of it. I mean look at us, we can’t stop ourselves scrolling or checking messages from time to time and we expect these little beings to be conscious of their screen-time.

When I went through researches, I was dumbfounded because most of the research conducted was on a small population and there still needs to be more concrete research to back up findings.

I sense gritting teeth and fists of fury aimed at my pretty face. Relax! Deep breaths people. I research, look at the positive and negative effects and devise a plan that works for us as a family.

Use of technology and children

Currently, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) states that avoidance of screens for children under 18 months (except for video-chatting) and limits 1 hour of high quality programming for children up to the age of 5.

I like the part of ‘high quality programming’ because children are exposed good learning content through technology.

However, the French Ministry of Health and Solidarity suggests no screen time for children until the age of 3, not even placing a child before the age of 3 in the same room where a television is on (Ministere des Solidarites et de la Sante, 2018)

An interesting term, I came across was ‘Goldilocks effect‘ in terms of technology use. Just like the story, not too much of technology nor too little of technology. Just the right moderate amount. In fact, it can prove beneficial for mental well-being and human connection.

How it impacts your brain, cognition and well-being

We’ve heard of the term “plasticity” in terms of brain development. It is an experience-dependent phenomenon. Our brains essentially change in response to our experiences, with childhood characterized as the time of high plasticity.

Childhood and adolescence are periods of rapid development and maturation. Genetic factors also play a large role in changing of brain structures during childhood and adolescence (van Solen et al, 2012) Therefore, nature and nurture is important.

  • Research on television linked that watching longer periods of television during childhood leads to attention problems in adolescence (Landhuis et all, 2007)
  • Another research suggests that time spent in television by playing attention training games versus watching popular children’s videos may contribute to improvements in executive attention and intelligence (Rueda et al, 2005)

How it impacts health-behaviors in children?

I am more concerned about this situation, because it has more substantial evidence to the detrimental effects of using digital devices in our sleep patterns, posture and sedentary behaviors.

SLEEP- When we get ready to sleep, our biological clock secretes a “sleep hormone”, melatonin, which starts to rise about 2 hours before our natural bedtime and signals sleep to our body (Figueiro and Overington, 2016) Nonetheless, this hormone production is suppressed due to lights of short-wave length such as blue and blue-green light, versus longer wavelengths of orange or red (Brainard et al, 2001)

Not surprisingly enough, many devices like cell phones, tablets and computers emit short-wave length light. Another important factor is, melatonin production might be more sensitive to light in children than adults.

Even though, we have “night shift” light in our mobiles, we need more evidence to prove that it eliminates the harmful consequences.

A systematic review of literature of 67 studies between 1999 to 2014 exploring sleep among school-aged children and adolescents, in which 90% studies showed unfavorable association between screen-time and sleep patterns (Hale and Guan, 2015)

This includes gaming, doing school-work or general internet usage.

STRESS- Teenagers are stressed about their number of friends and type of network size on Facebook and Instagram.

OVEREATING AND SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE- Over recent decades, extended screen-time has been linked with obesity in children (Subhramanyam et.al 2000). This happens because of unchecked intake of food, through watching television.

Some would argue and say ‘What about active video games like Wii sports, Dance Dance reality and augmented reality games like Pokemon Go. However, there still has to be considerable research done to prove that it provides spontaneous engagement. I believe that it helps you get out of your seat and improve fitness to some levels.

POSTURAL DIFFICULTIES- There has been numerous studies that has cited neck and back posture discomfort for children spending prolonged time on computers and tablets. More recent evidence suggest increase in neck symptoms being related to television, phone and tablet use, and visual symptoms related to increased use of phones and tablets in particular (Straker et.al 2017)

Our journey through screen-time

My journey began by reading books to my daughter (Azah), as young as 3-4 weeks old. It helped us form a strong foundation for her language and interaction skills. Please click here to read my blog post on reading to children.

She got a taste of being cuddled and read to. She relished the joy of being with parents who were her ultimate toys. Yes, I strongly advocate parents being the best toy in the room. We need to get in touch with the child within us. Literally, I am her side kick! Children want to hold your hands, rather than hold a hand-held device. They gravitate towards you, whenever you are around, because guess what? Mummy and Daddy are more fun to be around.

Next, we always had designated times and duration for watching TV or I-pad. What really worked for me was reminders, negotiation or counting backwards 5.4.3.2.1.

If Azah is watching a video she loves, and I know her time limit is coming up, I remind her by saying “In a few minutes, we have to say bye-bye to I-pad“. If that doesn’t work and she moves on to the next video, then I say “This is the last one and we say bye-bye to I-Pad“. If that also does not work, then I count 5.4.3.2.1, take the I-pad gently (no ego in the equation) and say “Bye-bye I-pad”. It resulted in whining and crying at the beginning.

I am setting boundaries for her and holding myself accountable for it. If I don’t set boundaries, she will not learn what’s ok and what’s not. She is the child and this is the only time I get to be an adult. Otherwise, she is Sherlock Holmes and I am Dr Watson.

It’s never a worry for me now. If we are in the negotiation phase, she finishes watching her video, turns it off and gives it to me. Otherwise, I give her a choice, “I can count or you give it to me, when you finish the last one?” 90% of the time, she gives it to me voluntarily. I am sure she hates the counting, even I am not a fan.

Another major thing we did was ‘co-viewing’. We always watched TV or I-pad together and did not leave her alone to tend to. I gave her lot of language stimulation, by talking about the things she saw and what they were doing. These are called ‘scaffolding’ strategies in language development. It assists in understanding the onscreen content. It has had a positive effect in increasing her language output.

Evenings and bedtime are media-free. We read books and talk about our day. This might sound like, everything is under control all the time. That’s never the case. I do have days when I-pad gets way too much affection, than deserved. Those days, I’ve had to stay firm with boundaries.

To sum up, I recommend the following tips:

  • Early on, engage infants and younger children in books. Indeed, books are uniquely portable magic.
  • Keep designated times and duration for watching TV, I-pads or computers.
  • Set clear and firm boundaries.
  • Establish good sleep hygiene, by keeping bedrooms media-free.
  • Adopt co-viewing in your family. Use scaffolding strategies.
  • Be watchful of your children’s media content. Check for violent or inappropriate content from time to time. Nannies should also be made aware of this.
  • Be the best toy in the room for your child!

Final thoughts

I do consider that moderate internet usage can help children learn language, give access to a wealth of information and explore educational content. Nevertheless, as parents we need to prioritize face-to-face interaction and be conscious of our own media usage, as children tend to learn by example. We need to walk our talk.

Ditch those phones, get silly and unleash the child within. Your child is waiting…..

Until next time..

Sources:

  • OECD- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Research on “Impacts of technology use on children: Exploring literature on the brain, cognition and Well-being. OECD Education Paper No.195

2 thoughts on “The Impact of Screen-time in the Learning and Development of Children

  1. Amazing this info is and yes so much of research and its both ways….as parents its just about setting boundaries… I like the scaffolding effect …in simple language we talk about onscreen content to build on comprehension and language ability.
    Thanks for sharing all this….

    Like

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