Adults know that electronic gadgets with screens entertain young children. Handing a cell phone to a child in a grocery store can make shopping easier. However, adults should focus learning with language rich, socially interactive opportunities for the child to learn about what is in the store.
Screen experiences from TV, smartphones, computers and tablets do not promote personality development. Real world social interactions are necessary. Screen devices substitute viewing images for exploration of the environment. While children can learn something from what they see and hear on screen devices, they learn more easily from interactions with people and objects they can see, touch and manipulate. The bottom line is that screen time for young children should be limited to provide more opportunity for play and learning in the real world. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children less than 2 years of age should have NO screen time.*
Zero-to-Three published guidelines for use of screen devices in 2014.** The guidelines reviewed the research findings, the implications and limits to place on use of screen devices. For example, Zero-to-Three reported that, on average, children less than 3 years old are exposed to more than 5 hours of background TV. This exposure has a negative effect on the children’s development of language and other brain functions. It reduces the quality and quantity of play that is vital to learning.
If a young child has any screen time, the guidelines say choose programs with interactive components, choose age-appropriate content, and avoid fast-paced programs. Because screen use has negative effects on children’s sleep, screen devices should not be in children’s bedrooms, should not be used in the two hours before bedtime, and should not have violent content. These recommendations apply to all types of screens: TVs, videos, computers, tablets and cell phones.
Snacking while using screen devices contributes to unhealthy weight. Snack time should involve mindful food choices and eating. The PA Nutrition Education Network has launched an “Eat Together Campaign” emphasizing the value of families routinely gathering at mealtime as often as possible.** This campaign recommends that screens should not be allowed during mealtimes because they interfere with meaningful social interactions and good nutrition. (See related article on page 6.)
*Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years. Council on Communications and Media. Pediatrics 2011; 128:5 1040-1045; published ahead of print October 17, 2011, doi:10.1542/peds.2011-1753
** Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight. Research-Based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old. Claire Lerner, LCSW, ZERO TO THREE and Rachel Barr, PhD, Department of Psychology and Director of Georgetown Early Learning Project at Georgetown University