We’re living in a world where access to technology is ubiquitous and effortless. Unfortunately, this means children are often exposed to technology from a very young age. The question is, what’s the impact on their growth and development?
Screen Time and Childhood Development
Screen time – whether in the form of TV, gaming, apps, or YouTube videos – is ubiquitous and common in the average American household. And while you, as an adult, may be capable of monitoring your own consumption, children lack the capacity or discipline to achieve proper balance. Plus, they’re far more susceptible to the negative effects of overexposure.
“By the time a child is 3 years old, they have formed 1,000 trillion neuron connections,” PrivacyParent points out. “Many of the life skills a child will need and use throughout their lifetime are at peak brain development from birth to around 4 or 5 years of age. This includes emotional control (peaks at around 1), social skills (peaks at around 2-3), and habitual responses (peaks at around 1).”
Too much screen time in children has been linked to difficulties focusing and concentrating on tasks, lack of social skills, trouble making friends, disinterest in real life, and stunted creativity.
“When every finger swipe brings about a response of colors and shapes and sounds, a child’s brain responds gleefully with the neurotransmitter dopamine, the key component in our reward system that is associated with feelings of pleasure,” psychologist Liraz Margalit writes. “Dopamine hits in the brain can feel almost addictive, and when a child gets too used to an immediate stimuli response, he will learn to always prefer smartphone-style interaction—that is, immediate gratification and response—over real-world connection.”
Tips for Limiting and Managing Screen Time
There’s a fine line to walk between being overly tech-averse and being too lax with how much digital interaction children experience. Here are some helpful suggestions for managing screen time with intentionality:
- Set Limits
Setting specific screen time limits and rules will ensure things don’t spiral out of control. Decide on an age-appropriate limit for each child. For a toddler, this might look like no screen time at all (or just 15 minutes a day). For a teenager, you may permit a couple of hours. Whatever the case may be, create a plan and stick to it.
- Know Your Options
Setting limits is necessary, but you can’t always leave it at that. Depending on the age of your children and how often they’re under your direct supervision, other controls may be necessary.
The good news is that most of today’s device manufacturers have built-in controls or accessible apps that allow you to avoid the power struggle that so often exists between parents and children. Learn how to use passcodes, parental control features, guided access, and privacy settings to keep children in line.
- Encourage Playtime
Taking devices away from children without giving them other activities to fill their time is useless. They’ll quickly become bored and find ways to get into mischief. Encourage playtime and give your kids toys and resources that spark creativity and imagination.
- Set a Good Example
Kids will follow your lead. If you spend hours of your day swiping through your phone or streaming Netflix, screen time will seem like a normal part of life. If, on the other hand, you participate in other activities and only spend a few minutes per day interacting with your smartphone or TV, their eyes will be opened to other things. Set a good example and don’t require anything out of your children that you don’t first expect for yourself.
Be a Proactive Parent
The truth is that we don’t yet understand the full impact of excessive screen time and exposure to digital technology. Today’s young adults are the first to have been raised in an environment where screens were a normal part of daily rhythms. So while there’s plenty of preliminary data to suggest that too much screen time is bad, we haven’t yet gathered concrete results on the long-term impact.
Rather than hope that the effects aren’t as bad as we anticipate, you’re better off being a proactive parent and tackling this issue before it morphs into a massive regret.