Is screen time bad for my child?

Screen Time for Children  

In this era of rising technology, digital technology has affected how children play, learn and form relationship. Consequently, developmental experts have started to investigate if and how the use of tablets, computer, smartphone and television affect children’s development.  

Today, it is acknowledged that when consumed digital content is age-appropriate and of good quality, screen time is not inherently negative. The problem arises when screen time takes away too much time from activities that are necessary for healthy development. In other words, screen time becomes harmful when a child spends too much time on screen at the expense of social and play activities that are essential for brain, physical and social development 

How much screen time is too much?  

Research has found evidence of neurobiological risks associated with children that have excessive screen time habits.  

A recent study in 2020 conducted by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre investigated the brain development of children aged 3 to 5 and found that children who were exposed to screen use greater than that recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics guidelines (see below) had lower levels of white matter in the brain, the part of the brain that support language and literacy skills. Greater screen use (ScreenQ) was also associated with lower scores in expressive vocabulary, phonological processing speed, and emergent literacy abilities (EVT Score; see figure 1).

Figure 1. Association between ScreenQ and expressive vocabulary

Another study in 2020 confirmed the link between excessive screen time in children aged 2 to 5 and lower brain development. At 2 years of age the negative effect was already noticeable for children spending more than 17 hours per week on screen (2 hours and 30 minutes per day). 

Other risks associated with screen time that have been reported in the literature include poor sleep, lowered parent-child engagement, and impaired executive function.  

Conclusively, these studies imply that children who used screen more often have greater probability to experience developmental impairment than their peers. 

Is screen time always bad? 

However, research shows that screen time can have a positive inpact when it is limited and content is carefully selected. A longitudinal study found that children who watched Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street TV programs for an average of 1 hour and 38 minutes per week (about 15 minutes per day) for 24 months indicated higher levels of cognitive skills compared to children without exposure to those programs. The authors of the study argued that the cartoon supported learning and socioemotional development. 

It is important for parents of younger children to carefully selected high-quality programs and watch the alongside with their children to maintain interaction and help them understand the content of the program. 

Screen time is not always bad when parents make sure to arrange media-free times and locations, such as during meal time, on a trip inside the car, and in the bedroom. 

How much of screen time is ok?  

The American Academy of Pediatrics gives the following recommendation on screen time for children:  

Child’s age 

Screen time recommendations

Up to 2 years old  

No screen time 

2 to 12 years old 

Maximum 1 hour per day 

12 years and older  

Maximum 2 hours per day 

*source: mayoclinichealthsystem.org 

 

References  

Cross, J. (2022). What Does Too Much Screen Time Do to Children’s Brains?. Health Matters. Retrieved from https://healthmatters.nyp.org/what-does-too-much-screen-time-do-to-childrens-brains/  

Hassinger-Das, B., Brennan, S., Dore, R. A., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2020). Children and screens. Annual Review of Developmental Psychology, 2, 69-92. Retrieved from https://kathyhirshpasek.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2020/10/Annual-review-dev-pscych-article-oct-2020.pdf  

Hill, D., Ameenuddin, N., Reid Chassiakos, Y. L., Cross, C., Hutchinson, J., Levine, A., … & Swanson, W. S. (2016). Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138(5). Retrieved from https://www.publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-split/138/5/e20162591/60503/Media-and-Young-Minds  

Hutton, J. S., Dudley, J., Horowitz-Kraus, T., DeWitt, T., & Holland, S. K. (2020). Associations between screen-based media use and brain white matter integrity in preschool-aged children. JAMA pediatrics, 174(1), e193869-e193869. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2754101%20  

(2021). 6 tips to reduce children’s screen. Mayo Clinic Health System. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/6-tips-to-reduce-childrens-screen-time#:~:text=The%20American%20Academy%20of%20Pediatrics,day%20for%20teens%20and%20adults  

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