Screen Time – How it affects your child and what you should know!

July 4th, 2018

Living in the 21st century is challenging.  Most households consist of two parents who work full time while still needing to care for a family and a household.  It is during these times that turning to electronics such as the TV or tablets can be the most tempting.  The allure of most children remaining still for a long time whilst watching or playing is tempting, allowing us the often much needed time to get things done.  We do however, need to consider the positives and negatives of screen time and how this can affect our children’s speech and overall development.

“Screen time” is a term that is commonly used to describe the duration that individuals spend on electronics such as cellphones, computers, tablets, video-game consoles and other electronic devices. Much research has been conducted to determine how much screen time is ‘safe’ and the implications of this on a child’s development.

In an article published on, it made mention that as the number of electronics increases in homes; many children are learning how to use these devices before they are learning to talk.  Research that was presented at the American Paediatric Societies Meeting found that by a child’s 18-month check-ups, 20% of the children had daily average handheld device use of 28 minutes.  They then made use of a screening tool for language delay, which indicated that the more handheld screen time a child’s parent reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech.  They also reported that for each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay.

Too much screen time can also influence your child’s behaviour as it can influence the following important factors:

  • The number of hours a child sleeps
  • The quality of their sleep
  • Their attention and concentration, which can result in them being withdrawn.

Dr Catherine Birken also reported that in severe case of excessive screen-time, it can affect their health as they experience headaches, poor nutrition, eye-sight can be affected and can experience weight gain or weight loss.

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) therefore provided these guidelines:

  1. Younger than 18 months:
    Should avoid screen time altogether except for video-chatting. This is very important for their brain development.
  2. 18 month to 2 years old:
    Children should be watching or playing high-quality programmes (educational programmes) or apps IF an adult plays with them. It is imperative to provide language stimulation in these moments. They should not exceed roughly 30 minutes per day.
  3. 2 – 5 years old:
    Children should have no more than one hour a day of screen time.  Again, adults should be watching or playing alongside their children.
  4. 6 years and older:
    Consistent limits on screen time are imperative.  Prioritise productive time over entertainment time.  For healthy children, an average day should include school, homework time, at least one hour of physical activity, social contact with friends or others and 8 or more hours of sleep.

Screen time can however, have benefits too.  These benefits include:

  1. Bonding with your children and a fun way to interact with them and stimulate their language development and teach them new concepts and skills.
  2. A fun way to learn new and educational concepts. Some children are visual learners.
  3. Fostering family and friend relationships through the use of programmes such as Skype.
  4. Helping to develop wider creativity and play skills. This is as TV shows and movies can increase a child’s imaginative play.

A critical element in the conversation about Screen Time is the necessity of clear boundaries. These should include:

  1. Limiting screening time as mentioned above. Ensure one follows the above guidelines. Create set times that a child is allowed screen time.
  2. Where possible, encourage educational apps and TV programmes.
  3. Create “screen-free zones” in the house.
  4. Do not sit around the TV at dinner time, but rather sit at a table and engage in conversations.
  5. Do not allow screen time before bed. The light emitted for the electronic devices has a negative impact on our child’s sleep quality.  Rather implement story time or reading books before bed.
  6. Take one or two days in a week and make it “family day” where as a family, you engage in activities together such as playing, playing boardgames, reading, dancing or listening to music, drawing, acting out made up stories and imaginative play, etc.

Always remember that while we may want to limit our children’s screen time, it is also important to limit our screen time.  Be present and play with your children.  We often miss opportunities to interact and teach our children because we are on our electronics too much.  These are the crucial times where you can teach your children and provide that crucial language stimulation or develop deeper relationships with your children.

Below are some links where you can find more information:

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