Screen time can be a lifesaver when you have tasks to complete and need something to occupy your child’s attention. Screens can also be detrimental to your child’s overall development when not used in moderation or with parental interaction. It is a double edged sword.
From birth, outside influences are shaping your child\’s development in these five areas:
- Physical – encompasses all aspects of health, which includes sleep, nutrition and regular check-ups.
- Cognitive – refers to the process of growth and change in mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning and understanding.
- Social-Emotional – includes the growth of a child in understanding and controlling their emotions, identify what others are feeling, and learns how to interact.
- Language – depends on other developmental domains. The ability to communicate with others grows from infancy.
- Motor – development of physical changes, growing in size and strength, and the development of both gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Results of Excessive Screen Time
Above are examples of developmental areas most notably affected by increased use of handheld devices. Additionally, recent studies have revealed:
- watching 1.5 hours of television increases the risk of obesity in children between the ages of 4-9,
- there is a higher incidence of depression and suicide in teenagers with high exposure to screens,
- children’s creativity and functional problem solving suffer with overexposure to screen time, and
- autism-like behaviors are likely to occur with increased screen exposure.
This information does not suggest exposure to screens causes autism. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a pervasive neurological disorder identified by a combination of behaviors that results in various conditions, including challenges in communication, social skills, and repetitive behaviors. A psychologist or developmental pediatrician observes the existence or absence of these behaviors to diagnose or rule-out the presence of ASD. The information contained in this handout emphasizes that there is a critical window of neurodevelopment vulnerability, and points to overexposure of screens as a risk factor that impedes development. This can result in a misdiagnosis, considering behaviors demonstrated by children with ASD are similar to behaviors of overexposure to screens.
Research related to ‘virtual autism’ is in the infancy stage. Read more about it in the peer-reviewed journal, Intractable & Rare Diseases Research: Early electronic screen exposure and autistic-like symptoms.
Screen Time Recommendations (AAP)
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media (what does co-viewing look like?) with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and ensure that media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Utilize timer functions built into iOS and Android software to manage screen time (learn here).
- Early electronic screen exposure and autistic-like symptoms (research article)
- NY Times: Screen Use Tied to Children’s Brain Development (research review)
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Screen Time Recommendations
- iPad Generation Fingers Not Ready to Write, Teachers Say
- The Harmful Effects of Too Much Screen Time for Kids
- The Unexpected Effects of All That Screen Time
- Virtual Autism May Explain the Explosive Rise in Autism Diagnoses
- Developmental Domain Definitions
- How to Manage Your Child’s Screen Time (using technology)
- 8 Creative Ways to Manage Your Child’s Screen Time
- Tips to Reduce Screen Time
BONUS: Curious about what co-viewing or adult-directed screen time looks like? Take a peek inside our therapy room on Instagram and see how we use screen time! Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4