Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths and Child Advocate

5vc8qkyt-1393473615Is technology changing our children?  We are in awe over the ease in which young children tap through apps on ipads and phones.  Frequently a parent comments, “My child is wicked smart.  It is incredible how quickly she navigates my phone!”  There is no doubt that young minds process technology patterns at lightning speeds.  How does technology impact the healthy brain development of a child?

Research shows that children need more than screens for healthy development.  In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social emotional skills.  Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attention skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience.”[1]

While media use may have some positive impacts, common problems are arising from this form of interaction in children.  “My 4 year old is really hard to get off of the ipad.  When I take it away from him, he is uncontrollable, kicking and screaming,” explains a frustrated father.  “I found my child staying up late at night to play on her ipad.  She is too tired for school because she is playing games at night,” explains a mother.  “I don’t like what it is doing to our family.  These video games put my grandson in a mean mood and we can’t even enjoy a meal together,” reveals a grandfather.  Does any of this sound familiar?  These stories are the norm for today’s families.  So are screens too much of a good thing for young children?

Screen time has been linked to behavioral challenges, sleep problems, obesity, cognitive delays, social emotional delays, and speech delays in children.  Yet, many parents fear that their child may fall behind in school if they are not immersed in the use of technology.  Some parents feel pressure from teachers who say children will be behind even in the early elementary years.   This fear is not based in fact.  In fact, children perform better in school when they build cognitive, language, and social emotional skills through interactions with trusted caregivers.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement with recommendations on media use for young children.  The policy was a result of literature and research review.  The article, “Media and Young Minds” is essential reading for every parent, grandparent, educator, and pediatrician.   Below are actions for families, and recommendations for pediatricians and industry can be found in the full article at:
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591 .

Families

  • Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months.
  • For children ages 18 to 24 months of age, if you want to introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming and use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.
  • Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early; interfaces are so intuitive that children will figure them out quickly once they start using them at home or in school.
  • For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, coview with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
  • Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
  • Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
  • Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation. Ask your pediatrician for help if needed.
  • Monitor children’s media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together, and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
  • Consult the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Use Plan, available at:
    healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.”[1]

    [1] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591.full.pdf
    American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics Volume 138, number 5, November 2016