Is excessive screen time for a preschooler good?

The rise of hand-held technology has changed what it means for a child to grow up, affecting how children play, learn, consume the surroundings, and establish relationships.

Especially portable electronic devices provide unlimited access to a wide range of media. It has almost become impossible for a child to grow without being introduced to digital devices like smartphones and tablets. Although digital devices can offer endless entertainment, knowledge, exposure, and educational content, the increased screen time remains to be the biggest concern. Alternately, many parents consider these devices as babysitters without being aware of its implication or impact on children’s intellectual and emotional development.

Studies show that there are several issues associated with excessive screen time for kids, the most serious of which is behavioral problems. Kids who spend 2-3 hours a day in front of a screen are likely to have many emotional issues. They tend to be more isolated and inactive. Secondly, it is known that kids need more sleep than adults, but screen time before or during bedtime can harm your child’s sleeping cycle and, in turn, health. The light emitted from screens disrupts the sleep cycle in the brain and can lead to extended sleeplessness. In other words, kids who spend more time with electronic devices seem to struggle with sleep. Other than that, children’s ability to concentrate for a more extended period appears to be affected by fast-moving screen activity and the change of pace during video games as such. Researches show that the drastic changes in the attention span have indeed disrupted their performance in studies. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, exposure to violent movies, shows, and video games can cause their sensitivity.

An extensive study was conducted by a group of researchers and approved by the University of Calgary on the prevalence of excessive screen time for preschoolers and its unaware implications for brain development. The study suggests that screen-based media use is associated with brain development, integrity, literary skill, and cognitive behavioral skills. The objective of the study was to determine the prevalence of exceeding screen time among children aged 2-3 and the factors leading to failure to meet the guidelines. Study findings show that excessive screen time leads to lower microstructural integrity. In reference to the article published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal, it is said that recent evidence suggests that screen-based media use poses neurobiological risks in children aged 16-19. Yet, its associations with early brain development are largely unknown, particularly during the dynamic development span before kindergarten. Although sensory networks mature relatively early, those sensory networks for higher-order skills, such as language, executive function, multimodal association, and reading, exhibit protracted development and are dependent on constructive stimulation in the home.

WHO has issued guidelines regarding screen time for children, which clearly shows this issue has to be taken seriously. The guidelines place screen time in the context of a child’s overall activity level to prevent obesity. According to the guidelines, children below two are not allowed to have any sedentary screen time. The children between 2 and 5 should spend no more than one hour. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the first and most important answer to this problem is to minimize screen time. However, establishing rules for children is difficult unless you involve them in the process. Involve them and explain why it is essential to establish rules and screen use should be avoided during study and meal times as well. More importantly, if parents could show how to follow the rules, it would set an example. Telling your child to switch off the tv will do no good if you watch TV for yourself other than established screen time.

A digital landscape is growing around children faster than ever. It might be impossible for a child to grow without it in the digital age. Nevertheless, it is crucial to understand the effects of excessive screen time on children’s emotional and physical health, and make timely and necessary accommodations to make the most of this fast paced virtual world.

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