By Bruce Henderson, PHD
Infants and young children are exposed to screen time on televisions, computers, tablets, game consoles, phones, and other digital devices in homes, cars, schools, parks, stores, and even playgrounds. Is all this screen time good or bad for kids?
Tablets won’t make babies smarter
Perceptual limitations exist on what babies (under 18-24 months) can “see” and learn from interacting with screens. Studies revealed a “video deficit” in learning; it’s far easier for infants and young children to learn from live, interactive sources. If you want your grandkids to learn something more than rote responses to digital prompts, add yourself to the mix by asking them questions and directing their attention, just as you do when reading to them.
Technology for grandkids is okay, within limits
Watching screens will not turn your grandchildren’s growing minds to mush, but the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for children under age two, recommends limited screen time for children of all ages, and recommends screen-free zones, including children’s bedrooms.
Still worried? Ask yourself: What is being displaced? Research has shown that too much screen exposure means children don’t exercise enough or play enough (or play in less sophisticated ways), and that interactions with adults are often degraded by distractions. Click here for PBS’s stance on balancing media in children’s lives.
Basic guidelines to keep in mind:
- Children’s minds won’t be ruined by a little screen time, but long breaks are a good idea.
- Passive screen time does not foster or enhance complex learning.
- It’s okay to occasionally use screens to entertain infants and young children.
- Interactive screen time can be beneficial in small doses. Click here to see my article on interacting via video chats.
- Screens of all kinds should be turned off when not being used for a specific reason.
- Screens should be kept out of young children’s bedrooms.
So how much is too much?
There is no hard evidence, but good sense suggests:
- § Under age 4: Less than 2 hours a day
- § Over age 4: No more than 3 hours a day
- § For teens and adults: Less than they’re likely doing now; long breaks and no-screen time zones (dining table; during homework, etc.) recommended
”Children are not sponges, they are anthropologists actively trying to figure out the world and what it means—they need interaction with environments that respond to their actions. Buy children blocks, balls, and books, not screens. Read to them—a lot.”
Bruce B. Henderson has a PhD in child psychology and conducts research on children’s curiosity and development of memory. He is the proud grandfather of two, Coles and Davis.