If a parent asks me how much screen time is “too much,” I already know the answer: “Your child is exceeding his limit!” Studies have linked excessive screen time — from television and video games, computers, laptops, and tablets, and mobile phones — with obesity, impaired sleep, behavioral problems, and poor academic performance. (The PediaBlog has looked at the problem of too much screen time here, here, and here.) The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages the use of screens for any purpose in infants and toddlers (children under two). Pediatrician Claire McCarthy explains why babies and screens don’t mix in this age group:
It’s really amazing what happens with the brain in the first years of life, especially the first three years. The brain is literally growing and changing and making connections every single second — and those connections (and by connections I mean literal ones with neurons in the brain) are fueled and guided by experience.
What makes all the difference is interactions, especially “serve and return” interactions. Baby makes a noise, Parent makes one back — and it grows into a conversation during which Baby not only begins to imitate particular sounds, but learns about the concept of conversation, and about how different facial expressions can have different meaning. Baby rolls a ball and Sister rolls it back — and Baby learns not only how to physically roll a ball and catch it, but about turn-taking, relationship-building, and how to interact and play with others.
This is all pretty crucial stuff — and stuff that takes repetition to learn. If a kid is playing on a tablet or watching TV instead of learning it, the brain develops differently, in ways that aren’t good — and that may become permanent.
Dr. McCarthy says that no technology or app — even if educational — can ever replace a person:
Screen time isn’t intrinsically evil — and there are clearly lots of ways we can use technology to educate and engage children (it has made a real difference with my disabled patients, especially those with autism). But as we explore all its possibilities, it’s really important that we make sure that technology doesn’t stop our children, especially our youngest children, from interacting with people — and the world around them.
Tomorrow, we’ll have advice on ways to limit screen time in children.