Screen time for your child can be a lifesaver sometimes. You need a few minutes to finish a pressing task at hand. So you put your child in front of the TV and put on a cartoon channel. Are you doing good or bad?
Is screen time good or bad?
Cartoons and other programmes on screens are very great entertainment for kids. They can also be used to teach morals and other lessons. However, when screens replace your interaction with your kids, they put your kids at a disadvantage. Contrary to popular belief, screens cannot help your kids to talk fast. Therefore, cartoons and TV programmes cannot be used to treat delayed speech.
Additionally, children who have a lot of screen time may pick up different accents from the one in your home. They may also learn words that you would not normally teach them and may disapprove of. Programmes with violent content may be a bad influence on your child as well.
Screen time in general including laptops, tablets, smart phones and video games is not healthy for your child if you do not control it. They can lead to poor sleep quality thus affecting school work and behaviour. They can also lead to obesity resulting from being sedentary and mindless eating. Other risks of unsupervised screen time include cyber-bullying and sexting.
According to the American Psychological Association, there is now evidence that the youngest children do not learn well from screens. So, if you want to teach your little one something, model that behaviour. Also, teaching in a personal setting is better than putting on the TV. Unlimited screen time can lead to low scores on screening tests for behavioural, cognitive and social development at 36 months.
Can your kids use screen time positively?
Undeniably, screens are here to stay. It would not be practical, or even healthy, to ban screens from your home totally. You must rather let your kids use it responsibly.
The American Academy of Paediatrics has some recommendations on screen time for children. Children less than 2 should have screen time only when it is together with a parent. This should be a high quality programme. Also, children 2-5 years old should have no more than an hour of quality programming a day. You must watch it with your child as well. You need to be careful that the content is not violent, it is educational and teaches social skills.
For children older than 5 years, you need to set some ground rules. Ensure that media does not replace family time, play, sleep, and homework. It should also not replace exercise. Furthermore, you need to check what they watch to be sure that it is safe.
Strike a balance so as not to disadvantage your child. Set limits on use of all screens and be consistent with it. Also ensure that all screens go off at least an hour to bedtime. Make some spaces in your home media-free, where only family time happens. Above all, set a good example. If you are always on your phone at home, your children are bound to imitate you.
Remember that a screen cannot, and should not replace your role as a parent. And you are your child’s favourite playmate. Don’t abdicate your throne.