By Megan Farnam.
Most adults use technology, in some form, throughout their day. It can help to make tasks easier and more efficient. It can be a form of entertainment or a way to connect with others. We use technology to help keep children entertained and quiet while the adults try to accomplish a task or take a mental break. Technology can open a world of possibilities for adults but can have serious negative impacts on a child’s development. Screen time for children can negatively affect their attention spans and overstimulate them, which can hinder the use of imagination, building coping mechanisms, and controlling impulses. Children learn how to read faces and understand non-verbal cues from face-to-face interactions. Aside from the obvious time shift from friend and adult interactions, extended screen time has been shown to reduce the skill of empathy and interpreting human emotion.
Technology can be used as a tool that you and your child actively engage in together. Work through photos as if they are flashcards, talk about what it is that they are seeing, make the sounds that animals in the photo make, show pictures of family and friends while repeating their name and actively associate their face with their name. Use your smart speaker for playlists curated for playtime and bedtime- use them to dance, sing, be silly with, and prepare your little one for sleep. Avoid passive screen time, if your child is spending time watching a program, even if educational, use the time to interact and reinforce the concepts that are being taught.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than two years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills. Because their memory and attention skills are immature, they cannot learn as well form digital media as they can from trusted caregivers. Extended use of media and technology has been shown to be correlated to obesity in preschool aged children. Studies show that BMI increases for every hour of media that is consumed per week. Screen time and media exposure is also related to a lack of quality sleep from infants to early childhood.
Some recommendations from AAP for families regarding technology use:
- Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months.
- For children ages 18 to 24 months of age, if you want to introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming, and use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.
- Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early; interfaces are so intuitive that children will figure them out quickly once they start using them at home or in school.
- For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, co-view with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
- Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
- Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
- Avoid using digital media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when digital media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using digital media as a strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation. Ask your pediatrician for help if needed.
- Monitor children’s media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together, and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
- Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.
- No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
- Media and Young Minds | Pediatrics | American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org)
- Technology and Young Children: Infants and Toddlers | NAEYC
- Babies need humans, not screens | UNICEF Parenting
- Brain Matters documentary | Early Childhood Development – YouTube
- Digital Parenting by the Ages
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