screen time for kids

Screen Time for Kids: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Barbara MitchellChild Routines, Computer Time, Parent Routines, Quiet Time, Screen Time

Computers are everywhere! No matter which direction we turn, access to a computer – or more specifically “screen time” – is everywhere we look. In many homes, computers and other ways to access the internet are available in almost every room of the house.

As parents, we want what is best for our children. If we listen to the commercials and advertisements, we might be missing out if we don’t purchase the latest computer program, the latest app, or the latest Blu-ray. In reality, though, what are the pros and cons of all of this “screen time?”

“What is screen time?” you might ask. Well, “screen time” is any time that your child spends in front of a screen, whether it is a computer, television, iPad, iPod, cell phone, or tablet, you name it – if it has a screen, it’s screen time. “Active” screen time is time on devices that your child can interact and engage with. “Passive” screen time is watching a show, movie or clip that does not require your child to interact.

Pros of Screen Time

What are the Pros? Using a mouse or a tablet will increase hand eye coordination and fine motor skills, such as isolating the index finger. Your child will also begin to understand cause and effect, a necessary cognitive skill.

However, there are PLENTY of other ways to gain hand eye coordination, fine motor and cause and effect skills through play!

In order to increase hand-eye coordination, try dropping clothespins in to a container, or stacking pegs on a post. Some of the simplest, at-home activities can increase this skill.

If you were to focus on isolating the index finger, try reading to your child and identifying pictures in a book. Point to the pictures as you label them. Model this for your child. Ask, “Where is the ball? The dog? The moon?” Point to the picture, and encourage imitation.

Another way to encourage isolating the index finger is to play in play dough. The home-made kind is the best! Look for a simple recipe on-line, and poke, push, and pull that play dough!

For experience with cause and effect, simple games like peek-a-boo, dropping items off of the high chair tray and having a caregiver retrieve along with a silly sound, will teach cause and effect skills. Also, a classic pop-up toy…push the button and the animal pops up. Cause and effect!

Screen Time Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) actually recommends that children under the age of two have NO EXPOSURE to screen time. Here’s why! Research is actually showing that too much screen time in early childhood can result in speech deficits (yikes!) and interfere with personal/social development. Parents go from speaking the average of 940 words per hour, all the way down to 770 words per hour when young children are engaged in screen time.

For children and teens, the recommendation is one to two hours of screen time at most per day, with that time being spent with high quality programming. Your preschooler can learn some educational information from high quality programming, but they learn MORE from interacting with YOU.

Cons of Screen Time

What are the “cons” to using screen time? The most significant negative impact is the lack of personal interaction with your child. It is imperative for children to interact with people in order to gain communication and social skills! By interacting with the people in their lives (not the screens!), children learn methods of communication, and even subtle communication strategies, such as facial expressions and body language. These are skills that a screen cannot teach!

So, what can we do as parents to provide the best experiences for our young children? Ignore those commercials and advertisements that pressure you to have your child engage in screen time. Play and interaction are the ways to go! Play WITH your child…on their level, with their favorite toys, in a manner that is comfortable to them. Talk with your child! Even as you go about your daily routines, talk about what you’re doing, as you cook, clean, work, drive; expose your child to language.

If you choose to utilize some screen time for kids, make it meaningful. Work together with your child as they interact with the program. For example, touch the animal to hear the sound it makes…then together, you both make the sound. Take turns with the game: popping the bubbles on the screen, sliding a puzzle piece in to a slot. Add language, “Mommy’s turn” or “Who is next?”

Play and interact, and you will succeed!