Updated: Jun 7
“The simple truth is that technology is still a poor substitute for human interaction” -Robert G Thompson
What is screen time?
Screen time refers to any time that your child spends with a screen in front of his face; it includes all gadgets such as television, movie screen, smartphone, tablet, computer, video game devices or anything else with a screen and moving pictures. It doesn’t matter if your child is watching an educational video or playing a game -- screen time is screen time and it’s harmful if excessive.
Difference between passive & active screen time
Passive screen time is when a child absorbs information from the screen through mindless repetition. Passive activities can include monitoring social media, watching videos on YouTube, playing repetitive games and binge-watch. The main characteristic of passive screen time is that no thought, creativity or interaction is required.
Active screen time, on the contrary, involves cognitive and/or physical engagement in the process of device usage. This includes activities like playing educational games, editing pictures, coding a website, etc. Kids are expected to reply, draw a picture, create or move; here, language, social and physical skills are developing. Apps allowing to practice letters, numbers, and spellings are a kind of active screen consumption.
Screen time & brain development
Children learn to talk and communicate through interactions with other people. The initial few years of life are crucial for a child’s language development. It is during this period that their brain is most receptive to learning a new language and can build communication pathways that will be with them for the rest of their life.
For younger children, especially the ones below 3 years of age, the development period happens at a rapid rate. They learn by exploring their environment, keenly observing the adults' activities, and imitating them. Excessive screen time can impair their ability to perceive and participate in human interactions and daily activities that are required to survive in the world.
What do studies reveal?
According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2018, children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, which is the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.
Another study that was conducted was to examine the association between mobile media device use and communication delays in 18-month-old children. The results of this study revealed that each additional 30 minutes they spent on devices translated into a 49% increase in the likelihood of delayed speech development.
Ten negative effects of excessive screen time
Obesity due to poor physical activity.
Poor self-image and body image issues.
Poor sleep pattern and sometimes even insomnia.
Strain to eyes due to excessive exposure to blue light and brightness.
Affects focus, concentration and cognitive skills.
Lower grades in school due to poor concentration in studies.
Lack of interest in reading books and learning new skills
Less interaction with family & friends leading to fear of missing out.
Lack of satisfaction in normal fun and relaxing activities such as having a walk in a garden or playing peek-a-boo etc.
Mood fluctuations and related behavioural issues like screaming, becoming adamant, showing frequent tantrums.
Our recommendations on screen time use
We (Speech Therapy in Bahrain- RIFE USA) recommend the following based on World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines regarding when and how to use a screen with your child:
<18 Months (0 hours): Try to avoid screen time altogether except video chatting with family, so long as your child is accompanied by an adult.
18 to 24 Months (0-1 hour): At this age, you can begin to introduce your child to some digital media. However, it’s important to limit their usage, and also choose high-quality educational programming. Additionally, make sure they use the screen only in your presence so you can explain what’s on the screen and ask stimulating questions.
2 to 5 Years (<1 hour): At this age, it’s not realistic to completely cut out all media from your child’s life. During this key developmental stage, limit screen time to approximately one hour a day. Again, try to be alongside your child while they use the screen or supervise the contents they are consuming.
> 6 years (Limited time): In this online learning era, we can’t suggest an exact duration for screen time as most of the schools including formal schools, dance schools, music centres are now conducting classes online for various reasons. In this scenario, parents must decide the total screen time based on the child's learning requirements. Continue to limit your child’s media diet and encourage healthy habits. Actively monitor their usage to ensure it’s not interfering with their school work, sleep, or other physical activities essential to raising a healthy kid. However, apart from the screen time required for school activities, it is advisable to limit your child’s other passive and non-educational screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day, similar to an adult.
Key point: It is always beneficial to let your child consume screen time in your presence as much as possible because this will allow you to help the child connect what’s on the screen to the real world, and improve their language skills.
A vital point is that we need to find alternative activities to replace unnecessary media consumption. There are numerous healthy ways to engage a child to build strong speech and language skills and contribute to their development. Some ideas are as follows:
Play simple outdoor games, such as Frisbee or hide and seek.
Work on an easy craft project, like making paper boats, or rockets.
Take them to a park or garden, and create a love for nature in them.
Sing random songs or nursery rhymes or perform simple dance steps at home.
Introduce them to extracurricular activities, such as sports, music, and artworks.
Encourage in less expensive hobbies such as stamp collection, and gardening.
Make them play with role-playing toys including kitchen set, doctor set, and toolset.
Involve them in daily chores like washing clothes, cooking, cleaning, or arranging a desk
Have some family conversation time and discuss on random interesting and useful topics such as ‘Good habits’, ‘Healthy morning routine’, ‘What is the use of a computer?’, ‘What is the internet?’,’ ‘My country’, ‘Inspiring stories about grandparents’, and so on; even you can verbalize how much you love your child.
Delayed speech and language skills are one of the most common features that is observed in the present generation, and one of the major contributing factors for the same is excessive screen time. We are not asking to stop screen time entirely – we are just recommending having a fixed time and duration similar to having a time for eating, sleeping, bathing or playing. Now, let’s prioritize what is best for our child’s development in this world of technology. Let me conclude by reminding the words of the noble scientist, Albert Einstein-
“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”