In 2017, children under 8 were spending an average of 2 hours a day staring at screens, according to a Common Sense Media study. That number increased to 6 hours for kids aged 8-12. It’s safe to assume that screen time has drastically increased due to distanced learning. But what’s the harm of a few more hours of screen time?
Many studies, some as recent as 2019, have found a relationship between screen time and reaching typical developmental milestones. The consensus seems to be that children who spend more time with screens spend less time interacting with other children. This has many ramifications for a child’s Emotional Intelligence (EI) regarding their linguistic and emotional development. Try these 5 tips for improving your child’s screen time and by proxy, their EI.
The first way to improve screen time is to make sure it’s not excessive. Setting limits on screen time is a necessary part of teaching your child the purpose of screens. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends only allowing screen use for video chatting for children until age 2. They also recommend only 1 hour per day from ages 2-5 and that hour should be monitored to make sure the child is actually getting something out of it. This leads into my next tip.
Screen time for children ages 6 and above can be trickier to monitor and the best strategy can vary family to family. Making sure there is educational value in their screen time is paramount. The best way to do this is by maintaining a parental presence during screen time, especially at an early age. You need to be the one making sure your child is really engaging with screens in a beneficial way, not just zoning out or using them as a distraction. You can use parental settings to make sure your child’s internet usage is kid-friendly. If you talk regularly with your child about internet safety, they will have a better understanding of the purpose of screen time. Changing your child’s attitude on screen time isn’t easy, but it can have real long-term benefits into adulthood.
Many children’s video games and entertainment sources function in a way that stimulates the brain’s reward center. If a child engages with screens too much, research has shown that it can affect their ability to enjoy other forms of media. Children raised by screens are more likely to not engage with people, books, and other less immediately-gratifying entertainment sources. Exposing your child to screenless forms of entertainment is one of the best things you can do for their developing brains. Toys like building blocks, coloring books, and puzzles can all develop fine motor skills and foster creativity at an early age.
The unavoidable truth is that screens are here to stay. We need to accept it and work on strategies to maximize the value of the screen time we allow. Try some educational apps instead of violent or simplistic games in order to use screens as a tool, not just a toy. The New York Times is a great resource for useful apps and there’s even a section for emotional development games.
Children learn from watching their parents. Make the dinner table a screen-free zone. Make it known that reading and verbal discussion are more valuable than screens at a young age. Read with your child, play with your child, and support them when they find interest in a screenless activity. Engaging with your child about their screen use and even playing their digital games with them can be a great way of engaging with your child’s interests. At the end of the day, children observe adult’s behavior closely. If they see you putting down the screens and valuing face to face interactions, they will absorb the benefits of these behaviors.
Screens can be used as great learning tools if we use them intelligently. In the world we find ourselves right now, they are an unavoidable necessity. Kids are experiencing the same screen fatigue as the rest of us, but the effect of that fatigue has greater ramifications in children. The whole point is to think about ways to improve screen time in a way that supports healthy growth and development. Think about what has worked best in your life. What strategies can you use to make screen time a benefit for your child?