Now, more than ever before, kids are growing up surrounded by technology, from baby monitors to smart TVs, tablets and phones. Keeping them isolated from technology is almost impossible so one of the biggest struggles that parents seem to be confronting with nowadays is if, and how much, they should expose their kids to tablets, smartphones or other such devices.
Many parents are wondering about the impact screen time can have on the brain development of children, but the answer is not one size fits all. It depends on many aspects, including the age of the children and the total amount of screen time exposure. If you are wondering when to introduce your child to a tablet or smartphone, it may be worth considering what experts on the matter have to say about it.
So, What do The Experts Say?
There has been a tremendous number of studies done on children of various ages, in an attempt to determine whether or not screen time affects their development, but the results are sometimes conflicting.
One study performed by Oxford University reveals that screen time has no close effect on the psychological health of children. Another study that comes from the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health in the UK also concluded that there is no substantial evidence to prove that time spent in front of a screen has negative effects on children, as long as it does not interfere with sleep, physic and social activities.
On the other hand, other studies, such as the one conducted by JAMA Pediatrics in November last year reveals too much screen time may interfere with language development. The study was performed using complex M.R.I. scans, on 47 children ages 3 to 5 and revealed that children with higher screen exposure had worse results on language processing speed tests.
The overall conclusion that all of these studies reached, despite their different results, is that the problem may not be so much about the fact that screens are bad, but rather about the readiness of children. Just as driving a car is not bad, but driving a car at the age of 10 may not be such a good idea.
Are You Only Looking for a Way to Keep Your Child Busy?
Most of the time, parents choose to introduce their kids to tablets because it seems like a good way to keep them distracted. There is an abundance of apps and videos created especially for children, that can keep them busy for at least an hour, so the temptation to put a tablet in your kid’s hand to keep them busy while cooking dinner is quite high.
If you are only looking for a way to distract your kid, you may want to consider a different solution than just put a tablet in their hands and allow them unrestricted access to the Internet. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a screen time guideline that parents should consider when introducing their kids to tablets or smartphones. Amongst the suggestions, they recommend that children under 18 months should not be exposed to screen time at all, while for children ages 2 to 5, the screen time should be limited to less than one hour a day.
Consider the Educational Side as Well
Nowadays, the Internet is an immense source of information, so not taking into consideration the educational side of the matter would be a mistake. There is a tremendous number of apps, eBooks and video content specially developed for educational purposes, so the situation may not be as bad as some may think.
In reality, the issue with tablets and child development may have more to do with the content that children are exposed to, rather than the time they spend in front of the screen. So, the question changes from when to introduce your child to a tablet, to what type of content should you expose your child to.
There are a lot of good apps out there, that are specially designed to aid with the development of children, from learning about shapes and colors to bettering their language skills. The important thing is to ensure that the tablet has some sort of parental control installed and keep an eye on what kind of content your child has access to. A nonprofit organization for early childhood development even created an infographic to guide parents when choosing screen-based experiences for their children.
So, How Old Should a Child Be to Have a Tablet?
Experts suggest that kids under 2 years old should not be exposed to screen time at all, as during this period they need social development more than any other activity. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should be limited to not much than one hour a day of screen time and parents should supervise the type of content they are engaging with. For kids over 5, 2 hours of screen time a day should be enough, but you may want to discount homework time.
Screen Time Rules
If you do decide to start allowing your children to use a tablet, you should also consider establishing some rules as well:
- Don’t allow screen-based devices into your children’s bedroom until they are older, so you can better monitor the amount of time they spend with their devices.
- Establish clear boundaries, such as only using the tablet after they finished with all their other activities for the day.
- Install parental control apps on the tablet or phone your kid is using and control the type of content they access
- Make sure there is a clear gap between screen time and bedtime, to ensure it does not disrupt their “body clock”.
- Try to find alternatives to screen time and spend time together playing games, going for walks or even doing the chores.