“My boy is barely two but he’s so good at using the iPad and phone! He can’t even talk or read but he knows how to get into YouTube and find his favourite song. How clever”. If you find yourself singing such praises of your child, it’s not good news. The truth is that if your toddler is an iPad genius, you have a huge problem at hand. Toddler screen time addiction is not something to be proud of!
Overexposure to screen time impedes a child’s development, social and language skills.
A recent local study found out that about 30% of infants below six months of age are regularly exposed to some form of screen time – television, mobile phone, tablet etc. “The average amount of time is 60 minutes a day,” said Dr Aishworiya Ramkumar, associate consultant at National University Hospital’s (NUH) Child Development Unit.
This figure increases and by the age of two, almost nine out of 10 children have regular screen time. This clearly shows that toddler screen time addiction is a significant problem.
Even more alarming than these figures is the issue of poor parental awareness pertaining to this matter. Only 20% of the parents surveyed had any idea of professional guidelines regarding screen time for children! And a significant 40% did not monitor their children’s screen-time use at all times.
The iPad debuted in 2010 and the subsequent boom in mobile touchscreen devices has profoundly altered what childhood means for this generation of children.
Why Does This Happen?
Almost every parent-to-be has sworn never to let their child have any screen time and as such, toddler screen addiction is something they cannot fathom. Many parents assume that such a situation would never occur in their household simply because they will not allow it to.
However, in reality, things don’t always go as planned. It’s almost impossible to entirely keep your children away from gadgets and screen time. Firstly, even if you are incredibly disciplined and never ever switch on the television or use your mobile phones in their presence, some friend or relative is eventually going to let your kids explore their gadgets. Trust me when I say this happens!
Children watch adults using their gadgets and it’s a matter of time before they get curious.
In other situations, when parents aren’t the primary caregivers, it’s also problematic. You make your expectations and instructions clear to your helper or the grandparents, but they don’t necessarily follow your rules.
Helpers may want to make their job easier, or grandparents may not be able to deal with your child’s insane energy levels.
And in the case of working parents, at times they are so tired that they just succumb to using screen time as babysitters.
It happens. Saying that you will give your child zero exposure is idealistic and tantamount to fighting a losing battle. The key is in managing the exposure and not allowing toddler screen time addiction to happen.
Negative Effects of Toddler Screen Time Addiction
Let’s take the example of Jack (not his real name). Prior to learning how to walk or talk, Jack was able to navigate touchscreen gadgets. He started out with 30 minutes of screen time a day and that rapidly escalated to a whopping six hours a day before he turned two! Talk about toddler screen time addiction.
When examined by Dr Jennifer Kiing, senior consultant at the NUH’s Child Development Unit, this is what she said:
He had no meaningful words, had poor eye contact, did not respond consistently to his name and had short attention span.
Toddler screen time addiction causes them to be anti-social and appear ‘zoned out’.
There are many children suffering from similar consequences of toddler screen time addiction. While formal statistics that track the touchscreen effect in Singapore are not widely available yet, the first waves of negative effects in children with too much screen time, is starting to surface.
The most significant development issues in this group of pre-schoolers are language and social delays.
Ms Fiona Walker, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and principal of well renowned Julia Gabriel Education, said today’s pre-nursery children (who are turning three), appear less comfortable expressing themselves.
This was observed by the informal chats that her teachers have before children are enrolled. These chats are held with the aim of gauging children’s conversational skills and over the last two years, there has been a surge in children who are less chatty.
Experts believe that if toddler screen time addiction is left uncontrolled, it could affect the overall development and health of babies and toddlers in the long run.
Parents might want to note this important piece of information. A newborn’s brain triples in size in the first three years of life, and experiences during this time are what shape the adult brain. While it might seem like screen time does have its benefits by exposing your child to an interactive world, it is but a myopic view of the world. It takes them away from day-to-day interaction with their environment!
Remember, screen time affects a child’s physical and mental health. Period. No two ways about it. And you cannot reverse the effects, or compensate it with physical activity. Giving a child 10 hours of physical activity does not do any form of damage control for 10 hours of screen time. It simply doesn’t work that way!
To watch or not to watch?
Given the ubiquity of digital technology, there are conflicting opinions about whether or not there should be zero screen time before the age of two. Some institutions and like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have relaxed their stance while others such as Dr. Kiing maintain their belief that :
Should you completely keep the phones away from your baby?
There is simply no place for digital technology in the life of a child before the age of two!
Screen Time Guidelines
The ultimate choice of whether or not you want a zero screen time policy, lies with you. However, here are some useful guidelines by AAP, to prevent toddler screen time addiction:
- Babies younger than 18 months – Avoid use of screen media other than video chatting (with family members)
- Toddlers aged 18 to 24 months – Choose high-quality programming. Parents should watch it with their children to help them understand what they are seeing
- Preschoolers aged two to five years – Limit screen use to 1 hour per day, and to high-quality programmes. Parents should co-view with children.
- Children aged six and older – Place consistent limits on time spent using media, the types of media and ensure it does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviour essential to health
Signs of Toddler Screen Time Addiction
Prevention is of course better than cure so do take all possible measures to prevent toddler screen time addiction. However, if you have already exposed your child to screen time, and especially if it’s excessive exposure, Dr Kiing says that these are some warning signs to look out for:
- Child has a massive meltdown whenever you take away the device
- Looks for any possible opportunity to use an electronic device
- Becomes aggressive or throws tantrums when he doesn’t get screen time
- Begs for more time on the device when you ask him to put it away
- Performance in school deteriorates
- Becomes more inattentive
So remember moms and dads, as Dr. Kiing cautioned,
“A toddler who knows how to swipe the device and enter a four-digit password is not a genius. The child is in trouble and at risk of speech delay, attention and cognitive deficits if screen time is not kept in check”.
Toddler screen addiction is a real and growing problem. Do your part to ensure that your child doesn’t fall prey to it.
Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore