All Screen Time is Not Created Equal

Dec 21, 2016

iPads, Androids, iPhones, and other mobile devices have become powerful parenting tools in recent years with educational games and programs that give young children safe and beneficial entertainment. But, are they really safe and beneficial? Studies show it all depends on a child’s age and how often they are used.

After parents give a resounding sigh of disappointment, the information isn’t really that bad. The period when screen time is deemed detrimental to a child’s health is before the age of three. These years are known as the “critical years” when a child’s brain is making what will be lifelong changes in brain function and it’s essential that children get most of their stimuli from outside sources.

What Happens During the “Critical Years”?

From birth until three years is when the bulk of a human’s frontal lobe of the brain is formed. The frontal lobe is responsible for cognitive skills, how a person communicates with verbal and nonverbal cues, emotional expression, problem-solving, memory, sexual behavior, and judgment. It’s often considered the part of a person’s brain that directly affects their personality.

Due to this period of brain development, the “critical years” are an incredibly important time for children to learn how to form relationships, understand human interactions, and develop empathy for others.

How Does Kids Screen Time Impact the “Critical Years”?

Too much stimuli: The potential problem with screen time for kids is the fact that screens offer a lot of stimuli all at once. Screens feed children images, words, and visuals at one time rather than allowing children to imagine visuals. While today’s parents are busy and sometimes overwhelmed, the simple act of reading stories and books to your kids during these formative years have drastic effects on their ability to communicate and understand human interaction. They learn to take the words of the story and form their own ideas and images to fit the words they are hearing.

Not enough authentic human interaction: Technology teaches children that a simple swipe or tap of a finger should produce an immediate effect. They can receive more and more stimuli with a basic touch. Every time a child receives these new stimuli their brain releases dopamine, therefore “rewarding” them for the action. The worry associated with this kind of immediate satisfaction is that it can make the child more interested in screen time than actual human interaction.

Learning how to use technology is no doubt a useful tool for children, but it's best to limit screen time for kids in their early years. When it comes to young kids and screen time, especially under two years old, some experts believe it's actually detrimental to a child’s mental health to have access to iPads, iPhones, and other screens. During these years, there is nothing better than human interactions, learning through communication and healthy relationship examples.

What About Screen Time for Older Kids?

Technology and mobile devices can be an extremely helpful tool for children over the age of two. At that point, experts say while screen time can be beneficial in small doses, it is recommended to limit screen time for kids to a maximum of one hour per day.

As children age, more and more screen time is understandable, although it’s still a good idea to limit the amount of time a child has access to screens and the internet. For parents concerned they won’t be able to adequately monitor their child’s screen and internet use, products like NetNanny’s Parental Control Filter can help families disconnect and spend quality time interacting with each other.