It’s a fact that screens are here to stay. Used correctly they can be a very positive and enriching part of a child’s development. Interestingly, it’s not just what your child is doing on their screen that matters developmentally, it’s how long they are spending doing it.
Bedtime story apps can be good for winding down after a long day. Doing a game or puzzle that increases a child’s finger dexterity, numeracy or literacy skills all have educational value. Indeed, even watching a bit of entertainment such as an age appropriate television show is also fine as long as a child isn’t watching continuously for hours and hours without a break.
The problem arises when the screen becomes the babysitter. Screens shouldn’t be something that impede children from connecting with other children – or their wider environment. I see this happening a lot with older children where they have play dates and all they do is sit around staring at their phones rather than interacting with each other.
Research shows that too much screen time is also exacerbating the problem of childhood obesity since children aren’t moving around enough. Fortunately, the advent of games such as Pokémon Go have had a very positive influence in that respect. Any games that get children and young people up, about and out of the house safely and securely should be encouraged.
Ultimately, when it comes to screen time, it’s really all about common sense. Look for age appropriate apps and games that don’t require too many in-app purchases unless you want to run up huge bills. The best way to approach screen time is let children use their screens in short bursts of up to 30 minutes before moving them on to another engaging non-screen based activity. Breaking the day up into short blocks of time doing different activities is one of the best ways to stimulate cognitive development in children.
By all means, let them play their Peppa Pig number game for 15 minutes in the morning, but once that’s done, put the tablet away and direct them towards something different such as playing with a favourite toy, reading a book together or taking them outside for a change of scenery. Variation is key.