Ongoing studies show that too much screen time is detrimental to young children. It takes between 18 and 24 months for a baby’s brain to develop to the point where the symbols on a screen come to represent their equivalents in the real world. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screens for children two years of age and younger, and no more than two hours a day for older children.
Increased amounts of screen time can be associated with behavior problems, anxiety, poor sleep, decreased activity and childhood obesity. In addition, a recent study from the University of Toronto revealed that for each 30 minutes of screen time an infant is exposed to they are at a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay.
Even background TV can interfere with a child’s ability to concentrate and researchers have found that background noise can prevent children from hearing different sounds in words which affected their ability to learn new words and retain the ones they were taught.
It can be tempting to use a screen to entertain your toddler while you are trying to get stuff done, but when you use screens as a babysitter you are actually shaping your child’s brain so that s/he will be LESS able to entertain herself/himself over time. Toddler brains are undergoing huge amounts of development every day. Young children’s brains are designed to develop optimally by engaging with the physical world, and with the imagination rather than being fed passive viewing that bypasses the need for imagination.
Here are some tips to help you avoid screen time for your toddler:
- Choose toys that allow kids to create their own fun. For example, blocks, craft supplies and playing dress up all stimulate a child’s creativity.
- Engage children in helping with daily household activities. Kids love to mimic us. They can help pick up dirty clothes, sort socks, sweep floors and water plants. Give them their own drawer of pots and pans and encourage them to pretend to cook when you are making a meal. It’s also good to get in the habit of cleaning up after playtime. Encourage your child to put things back by establishing a home for his/her playthings.
- READ! Not just at bedtime, but find a few minutes during the day too.
- Get on the floor and play. Spend time encouraging the development of the parent/child bond with active play at their level.
- Explore the outdoors. We know the Northwest can throw some wet weather at us. But don’t let the rain stop you. Dress accordingly, meet up with other families and explore the outdoors. Remember that being in the cold doesn’t cause colds.
- Keep electronics out of sight. Unplug from your devices completely or consider checking your email, text messages or social media when your kids are not around. Make a rule about not using devices during mealtimes. Designate media-free locations at home such as bedrooms and dining spaces.
Toddlers and preschoolers may not look busy, but they have important developmental work to do. Fantasy play, building with blocks, artwork, social interaction with their peers and siblings, cooking with their parents, climbing, swinging, and looking at books are just a few of these critical development activities. These activities help your child’s brain develop naturally , giving her people skills, problem solving creativity, as well as becoming a foundation for math and reasoning.