Kids & ScreensJan 18, 2023
Screens - Uncharted Territory 🚀
Screens are on the rise in our culture. Like them or hate them, they’re here, and here to stay.
While most of us have learned how to adjust to this change, the next generation doesn’t have the luxury of easing into the world of Instant Media. They’re being born into a screen-filled environment, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
We all want what’s best for our kids. As their parents and guardians, it’s up to us to help them navigate this new landscape.
The challenge? There’s not much data to go on as we proceed. But if we’re willing to take a closer look, we’ll notice patterns that have begun to emerge over the past few years that can help us make sense of these changes.
I’ll run through the top highlights of some recent studies involving toddlers and screens, and then outline 2 action steps to help you navigate this uncharted territory with your youngster.
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Children On Devices 👶
We’ve all seen two-year-olds playing on smartphones and tablets. There are games, pictures, videos, everything they could need to keep them entertained for hours on end. It’s becoming more and more common to use digital media as a babysitter. We’re busy. We don’t always have the time to engage with our toddlers the way we’d like.
So we turn to Media to lend us a hand. And it works. Our kids are quiet and still, and we’re able to get done what we need to.
But like most things, there’s more going on below the surface that we can’t ignore.
Helpful or Harmful? 🤷♂️
We don’t have decades of studies to help guide us through this new era, but let's take a look at what we have. Several recent studies can help give us an idea of some possible next action steps in relating to screens, and common sense and life experience can fill in the rest.
The Pros ✔️
Aside from the obvious benefit of keeping our children occupied, screens have provided access to educational games and shows that have helped the next generation learn the basics of vocabulary, counting, and general literacy. These are important topics for a developing toddler to be exposed to.
Screens also allow connection to loved ones through video calls. Many families move away from at least one set of grandparents, so the option to connect over a video call is a welcome one.
These are certainly pros, but the question is, do they outweigh the cons, and are there more healthy alternatives?
The Cons ❌
While screens offer some benefits to our young ones (and the parents among us), there are concerns to address, too.
A few recent studies, including a study by JAMA Pediatrics, suggest excessive screen time in prekindergarten children results in less “...brain white matter tracts supporting language and emergent literacy skills…” In other words, too much screen time can affect learning, especially language skills. So ironically, spending too much time watching learning shows can actually be detrimental to your child. Not only that, but any learning experience that doesn’t involve personal connection and interaction in the real world is doomed to failure.
Here’s why. An article by the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that “...in-person interactions with parents are much more effective than video for learning of new verbal or nonverbal problem-solving skills.” They went on to say that children under two-and-a-half have trouble translating things they learn from a two-dimensional source into a three-dimensional world, resulting in what they called “video deficit.”
Parents, you can’t be replaced when it comes to your child’s education. A personal, real time connection is critical to aid your child on their learning journey during their formative years.
If you remember nothing else, remember that you are what your child needs most. They need you to help walk them through a new and confusing world. Your input will make all the difference as they mature.
Two Action Steps To Help Your Child
With this information in mind, here are a few action steps you can take to help your youngster.
1) Screen free until 3 📲
Screen time in children 3 and under is neutral at best, and harmful at worst. Consider avoiding screens altogether for children under 3 unless there’s significant interaction on your part, like video-calling with Grandma where you can help the child understand what’s going on.
2) Get Creative With Screen Alternatives 🌤
Here are 5 screen-free ideas for healthy activities your child will love. Pick one or two of these to implement to start wholesomely replacing screen time for your kids.
Playing outside is a great way to get fresh air, sunshine, and to enjoy nature. A small play set, outdoor toys, or a sandbox are great activities that can fit inside even a small backyard (if you have a sandbox, just be sure to brush your child off before they go inside or you’ll be finding sand in your house for days).
If you don’t have a backyard, local parks are a great alternative. There are usually playgrounds and swings you can use to keep your child smiling.
While getting your walk in, take your child with you. Pushing a stroller or pulling a wagon is a great way to get exercise while spending time with your toddler. And if you don’t already take walks, this could be a great excuse to start.
Toys like blocks, dolls, stuffed animals and cars can keep kids entertained for hours on end. And the beauty is, more toys doesn’t necessarily mean more hours of entertainment. If there are too many toys available, a child can easily become overwhelmed or ungrateful. Fewer toys to choose from often means more of a personal connection with the toys your child has, which will help them enjoy their playtime more.
Many toddlers love to draw. It may not be inside the lines, but drawing can help your child be more creative, and learn to express themselves more fully.
Books are wonderful. Aside from content concerns, there is almost no downside to reading picture books to your toddler. And there are countless benefits. Picture books help toddlers learn important language skills and life principles—especially when you as their parent are helping them understand what they’re seeing.
Screens aren’t going away, and will only become more prevalent as time goes on. How we choose to deal with this change will be the key to our children's’ healthy development.
What screen alternative(s) will you use to reduce your child’s screen time? Share it with us on Social Media. 😀
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