It’s the 21st century and technology is all around us! In fact, technology is what is allowing me to write this and you to read it. So yes! Technology is great, it allows us to communicate and better organize our daily life. But because technology is so ubiquitous in our modern life, children are exposed to it every day. So, what are the facts, guidelines, and suggestions regarding children’s exposure to screen time? Keep reading to learn more.

Let’s start with the guidelines about screen time

For children younger than 18 months, the AAP recommends the use of screen media to be limited and with an adult standing by to co-view, talk, or teach something to the child. For kids from 18 to 24 months of age, you should choose high-quality programming and watch it with your children to help them understand what they’re seeing; so try avoiding solo media activities for your little one. Finally, for 2- to 5-year-olds, the recommendation is to limit screen time to 1 hour of high-quality programs per day. Also, co-viewing media with them is very important since it helps them understand what they are seeing, and understand how to apply it to the world around them. 

Some facts on the research

  • Researchers at the University of London that work on the TABLET project investigated the use of touchscreen devices among 6 to 36 months old children. They found that 99% of families own at least one touchscreen, 97% own multiple devices, and some have up to 14 of them. Also, they found that, on a daily basis, 51% of 6- to 11-month-olds use touchscreens for an average of 8 min, and 92% of 26- to 36-month-olds for an average of 43 minutes.
  • Researchers from the University of Toronto found that by 18 months, 20% of children have handheld a device for half an hour every day. Findings reported that for each 30-minute increase in screen time there’s a 49% increase in risk for expressive speech delays.
  • An AAP article on the effects of television viewed by infants younger than 3 years old reported that educational programs are effective in broadening children’s knowledge. They affect their racial attitudes and increase their imaginativeness. It’s important to note that this study was only focusing on the effect of television content rather than viewing time.
  • Scientific Reports published a study about the association between screen time and lack of sleep in infants and toddlers between 6 and 36 months. The study concluded that every additional hour of tablet use was associated with an average of 26 minutes less of night sleep.
  • University of Princeton researchers have shown that well-designed, age-appropriate educational screen time can be beneficial for children. Nevertheless, their report states that children might better understand and learn from real-time experiences rather than video.
  • Interesting evidence from Science Direct on how children transfer learning from a two-dimensional representation to a three-dimensional object concludes that children can imitate the actions they see on television (2D) using the corresponding objects in real life (3D). However, it also states that children younger than 3 learn less from television in contrast to live demonstrations.

Whether we like it or not, technology has become a part of our daily life. So, what are some suggestions on the use of technological tools around your little one?

  • Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although some research states that in certain situations, like airplanes, media is a useful soothing strategy, try not to use it as the only option and add toys or materials for your little one‘s entertainment.
  • Always try to choose videos from educational apps and, for 18-24-month-olds, try co-viewing so you can help them understand what they are seeing.
  • Limit screen time for your toddler to 1 hour a day, and try co-viewing so you can help them understand how to apply their new knowledge to their surroundings.
  • Avoid screens at mealtimes and one hour before bed.
  • Make screen time a family activity, like movie or game night. Ask questions about what you are seeing and learning.
  • Turn off the devices when they are not in use. Avoid having the TV on just for background noise.
  • “Monkey sees, monkey does”. Try avoiding answering calls or texts while playing with your little one.
  • Use screen time mindfully. Limit your own screen time and prioritize interactions. Also, choose the media together and pay attention to the message it’s giving to your child. Help them recognize and question advertisements or other content, or ensure that their media is free of inadequate content.
  • Make a family agreement on screen time. The AAP states that when media is used appropriately it can enhance your daily life. Media should work for you and within your parenting style and values. That is why they created a Family Media Plan to help you become aware of when you are using media to achieve your purpose.