Unlimited Screen Time for Kids: Good or Bad Idea?
How many hours of screen time are good for children? Oh, that is definitely one of the questions of our age. Knowing how to balance the hours per day that kids sit in front of a bright screen —whether is from a TV or a video game— and the physical activity they must have is almost like an alchemic task.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of any type of media for children under the age of two and recommends limiting screen time to no more than two hours for older children.
But what are the fundamentals behind those recommendations?
According to recent studies in the pediatrics field, there are concerns about the effect that electronic devices can have on the development of our children, especially on language development and expressive language.
Most of our non-verbal and verbal skills come from interacting with people. Children laugh when we make funny noises or faces, they learn about emotional behavior by seeing how their peers or parents react to certain situations.
A video game or a tv show offers no real interaction since the faces on the screen are not in sync with ours or our children. Unlimited screen time can de detrimental to the development of these language abilities, which are fundamental for the later periods in our children’s lives.
In addition to that, other studies, like this one Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test | Child Development | JAMA Pediatrics | JAMA Network , have shown that not limiting screen time can impact cognitive development and achievements of children at certain ages.
All screen time for kids is bad?
Playing video games or watching tv is not inheritably bad. There are lots of games and shows that help children understand certain things and reinforce knowledge.
It is common to find parents who use screen time for educational purposes only. However, it is important to find a balance between learning and having fun and also understand that, for children, these two things are in close relation.
On the other hand, this particular study Screen time and early adolescent mental health, academic, and social outcomes in 9- and 10- year old children: Utilizing the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development ℠ (ABCD) Study —one of the largest in the US investigation field— has concluded that, for young children and adolescents, screen time can actually be beneficial in strengthening social relationships.
What about parenting expertise?
Some parents can argue that giving unlimited screen time to their children is a way to teach them to be mindful of their time and decisions.
And yes, this can be an interesting experiment to instruct your children and let them have some independence, but can also result in a disaster.
It is important to understand that children do not have a fully developed frontal lobe. The frontal cortex is responsible for our restrictive conduct, the one that keeps us out of trouble and leads us to make decisions that are not always pleasant.
So, if a child has to decide whether to play video games or do the homework, it is more likely for them to choose the option that gives them more satisfaction —and we know the math assignment is not likely to be that option.
So, it seems like we are in the middle of two different roads. As usual, there is no easy answer for this particular subjet of screen time. Here are some takeaways to help you find the balance in the force:
- Watch and interact together.
The battle of limiting screen time does not have to be until the end of time. You can simply sit with your child and watch a tv show together.
This is a great opportunity not only to engage with your child but also to enhance their development. Ask them questions about the show. Have them explain to you the characters, the story. You can use all that knowledge later for some great play pretend situations.
- Be mindful but not obsessive.
One thing is wanting your child to socialize and spend some time outdoors, and the other is to go crazy about limiting screen time. Prohibition leads to conflict. Allways. Instead, use an environment of negotiation and concessions to find the perfect balance between screen time and daily life.
- The screen is for the livingroom
This suggestion might be a little bit extreme, but it is a good strategy to create habits and limit the hour of screen time. Try to avoid TVs in the kitchen, the backyard, and any other places in the house where you suppose to have interaction with other people.