Whether for work or entertainment, we’re constantly looking at some black mirror or other. Children are no different, but being exposed to prolonged screen time at early ages has shown to have a detrimental effect. To understand further, we spoke with Dayna Camilleri Clarke, a speech and language therapist, Dr Faye Pirotta, a counselling psychologist, and Dr Emma Micallef-Konewko who’s a clinical psychologist.
Effects of prolonged screen time
Not all screen time is bad – tablets and phones can be used education and communication. The key is moderation. No matter what technological advancements we achieve, human interaction remains vital, especially early on.
“It’s an established fact that children learn to talk and communicate through interactions with other people.”
Dr Pirotta and Dr Micallef-Konewko agreed, especially since technology has become an increasingly important part of all of our lives, although more research is required. What we must be attentive to are the reasons for which children use screens. Research increasingly suggests that “limited engagement with some interactive media and exposure to high-quality educational programmes can benefit pre-schoolers in terms of behaviour, literacy and cognitive skills”, Dr Pirotta explained.
“Indeed, not all screen time is bad. Technology has become an increasingly important part of all of our lives, most certainly for children too.”
Yes, but it’s 2020: The Year of Years
This has been a year that we’ve not seen the like of for a while. So, with outdoor activities limited, screen time is, of course, going to increase, but it’s what we can do with that screen time that’s important. Dr Micallef-Konewko said that it’s essential to lead by example, especially if working from home. Basically, it’s the “monkey see, monkey do” mantra – kids will not only repeat your words, but they repeat your actions too. If you’re addicted to your phone or TV, what message will that send to your child?
“Take time to step away from your desk to show that it’s OK to take a screen-break.”
Avoiding screen time during meals and engaging in conversation leads to improved social-emotional health and therefore, also reduces stress for the whole family. “If you can agree a time limit for screen time before they engage, that’s a lot arguments avoided!” says Dr Micallef-Konewko.
Cause and effect
In a study carried out in Canada with children aged 2-5 years old Dr Pirotta told us about, “results determined strong links between children who spent more time watching TV and using computers and poor performance on developmental measures.” What measures you ask? Mrs Camilleri Clarke answers: “Listeners use non-verbal cues to gain deeper meaning of the speaker’s message, as communication is more than knowing a long list of vocabulary”.
If the child is already at a stage where they’re showing signs of being addicted to their screens, “you can forget about getting them off it immediately”, says Dayna. It probably won’t even be beneficial if you don’t replace that time with something else – energy is transferred, not destroyed. This is a point that both all respondents agreed on. Replace screen time gradually, with actions like playing with toys, reading and physical activity. It’s essential for children to explore the world through their senses, and who knows – it might result in a new hobby that they otherwise might have missed out on. Dr Micallef-Konewko actually went on to say that you could join your child in their screen-time activities, helping them get the most of the educational content available.
Where to go from here
If there’s one thing to take from all of this, is that everything is best done in moderation. Can we avoid screen time altogether? No. Can we control how much time is spent and what our children are watching? Very much so. Using screen time in the short-term won’t have a detrimental effect. Still, setting boundaries early on will limit the potential negative long-term impacts. If your child is old enough to understand, explain why you’re doing what you’re doing.
And always keep in mind that nothing will ever beat the time spent and the memories you create together.