Current research shows that excessive screen time can be damaging to the development of children’s growing brains, however there are many opportunities for screens to be excellent tools for learning. Here are some helpful tips on how to make the best out of screen time.
1. Be present. When children are using a tablet or other electronic device, sit with them and ask them what they are playing or doing. Talking about what they are seeing on apps or during a movie not only gets them thinking about the activity in a more productive way, it also shows that you are interested in what they are interested in.
2. Pick age-appropriate programming. Content and context of media exposure is associated with language and cognitive development and the ability to pay attention. Viewing content that is beyond what a toddler understands is highly associated with attention problems, whereas children viewing educational content, within moderation, that is suitable for their age is not linked to attention problems.
3. Consider educational vs entertainment. Educational shows on television offer thought provoking ideas that refer to real life situations, where entertainment programming is often fast-paced and fantastical. Consider shows where the characters speak directly to the child and seek participation in tasks. Also programming where characters label objects and give opportunities for your child to respond promote language and skill development. (Eg. Dora the Explorer, Bubble Guppies, Blues Clues or check out commonsensemedia.org)
4. Get involved! The more verbal interactions with parents during programming, the more the children will learn. Point out objects in the background, or define words that they have yet to comprehend. Talk about what you are viewing with your child.
5. Opportunities to transfer learning. When using apps with children, take the learning piece that the app has provided and relate it to a physical object or real-life scenario. For example, if you are counting on the screen, follow up with a counting activity that provides the child an opportunity to touch or move something physical taking it from 2D to 3D. Unfortunately at this time, there is no evidence that the “swipe” and “touch” skills are transferable to writing.
6. Face to face interaction. Face-timing is a great way to stay connected to friends and family that do not live close, but is it safe? The answer is yes! Face to face interaction, even if done through an electronic device or screen, sets the stage to build stronger relationships between the adult and child when meeting in real life. By 17 months, infants are able to understand the connection between the real person they know and the person they are seeing on the screen.
7. Cut out the background noise. In many Canadian households, having the television playing in the background while chores are being done or while children are playing is an everyday occurrence. Research has proven that this seemingly harmless environment actually makes it harder for your child to direct their attention to the task at hand. Whether playing with blocks or reading a story, the background noise causes interference and is associated with poorer parent to child interaction.
8. Keep screens out of the bedroom. The importance of sleep cannot be over emphasized. It is crucial to a child’s development. Children who view screens within 2 hours of bedtime are slower to reach the level of restorative sleep that they need to be successful the next day. Encourage reading instead. Bedtime is a great time to share a book together or even allow children to read on their own (print copy, of course). Television in the bedroom is also a known risk factor for obesity.
9. Set the example. The best teaching opportunity can come from leading by example. Taking the time to put down electronic devices supports social and emotional connections with those around us. In addition, when parents overuse screens, they could be encouraging an increase in negative behavior from the child who is bidding for their attention.
10. Moderation is key. There are recommendations made by the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines that can indicate based on their age, how much screen time is acceptable for children. Of course it is important to consider this information, and make these decisions with moderation in mind. There are many examples provided above how screen time can be used in healthy ways.
For more information, explore some of this research: