By Jodi Knight, Speech-Language Pathologist
We have all heard “Don’t let your kid watch too much TV” and “Using screens isn’t good for little brains.” But why is it important to limit technology use, especially for young children?
It is hard to imagine our lives without technology. We spend hours a day with technology of one kind or another, including smart phones, video games, computers, tablets, and TV. Life moves at a fast pace and requires information at our fingertips. Even our children are exposed to technology at younger ages with use of fun apps, flashy toys, kid tablets, and laptops or iPads at school. Hundreds of books, toys, games or apps light up, talk, and promise to teach our children skills like words, songs, numbers, and letters. However, are they really teaching them what we think? Actually these apps and games are nothing more than glorified “flashcards” and do not teach important foundational skills like play skills, communication skills, or social-emotional skills, which at a young age are far more important to learning in the long run.
Actually, exposure to tech during critical periods of brain development, specifically birth to age 5, can negatively influence proper brain development with chemical and physical changes, which then makes their brains “need” more, similar to an addiction. As little as 30 minutes a day of digital media place children at significantly greater risk for receptive and expressive language delay, impaired social and play skills, difficulty with problem solving, and behavior and impulse control. These delays are likely to follow children into their social and academic undertakings. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following limits for technology use:
- Less than two hours per day for children ages 5-18
- No more than one hour a day for children 2-5
- None for children younger than 2
Even schools have moved away from pencil and paper for writing and reading paper books and are instead using laptops and iPads because information changes so rapidly that internet access is the most effective way to stay up to date. Children’s gross and fine motor skills, language, and literacy skills are falling behind due to a more sedentary and digital lifestyle. Digital books place a strain on the eyes and working memory as the stimulation can overload a child’s brain and decrease comprehension of read material. Reading paper books also engages different areas of the brain including areas used for emotion, sensorimotor, and visual spatial skills.
Children need life experiences, including interacting with people, playing, engaging in sensory activities, socialization with other children, and limited digital media in order to form proper brain connections. What parents do or don’t do during the formative years can have a profound impact on a child’s brain development, mental health, and life overall. The more life experiences we can provide our children away from technology the more we can increase brain activity and shape their future. Activities like playing at the park, taking a walk, or going to the grocery store can be simple activities that are language and learning rich environments with little to no cost
Eliminating digital media may not be feasible, but placing time restrictions on technology can have a huge impact on children’s brain development. A few red flags showing technology is consuming your child’s life include:
- Extreme irritability when screens are removed
- Impaired social interactions
- Need technology to calm down
- Struggle to have the same amount of attention, problem solving skills and stamina for non-technology
- Poor sleep patterns
- Viewing their world through the lens of a specific game/app/video
- Rush through required tasks in order to return to technology
Adults are frequently consumed with digital media; we too could “disconnect” from our reliance on technology and “reconnect” with our families. It can be difficult to put our phones or tablets down at times, but taking the first step to limiting our “tech time” could have a huge impact on our wellbeing and our children’s.
Southwest Health provides pediatric physical, occupational, and speech therapy services and can help your child reach appropriate milestones if there are delays. If you have concerns or questions regarding the amount of time your child is engaged in digital media or your child’s development, contact your physician to determine if he/she is on the right track or if further assessment is warranted.