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Screen time: How does it affect your child's development?

Written by Charmaine Kwok

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What is screen time?

Screen time is defined as the time spent on various electronic devices (such as computers, tablets, smartphones, or watching TV or video or hand-held computer games) (HealthHub SG, 2022). While it is tempting for parents to resort to electronic devices to provide convenience and entertainment for their children, excessive screen time can hinder crucial aspects of a child’s development. 

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How does it affect your child's development?

Language acquisition

Contrary to common belief, even educational content on screens can impede a child's language development. Face-to-face interactions are essential for honing language skills, including active listening, speaking, and understanding. Parents should set limits on screen time to encourage real-life interactions, which could reduce chances of language delays. 

 

Delays in understanding language could look like:

  • Difficulties understanding the conversation

  • Difficulties in expressing thoughts and ideas

  • Difficulties in answering questions

  • Missing out words, using the wrong words, using more gestures to express themselves

  • Difficulty putting words together in a sentence

  • Have poor grammar e.g. “me want that red one” instead of “I want the red one”

Social skills

Human-to-human interaction is vital for children’s development of emotional literacy and empathy. For instance, when caregivers label emotions, comfort them and problem-solve with them, children learn to regulate their emotions and problem-solve. With the innate ability to mirror others’ emotions, children also learn empathy through such interactions (The Empathy Project, 2017; Spark & Stitch Institute, 2011). In contrast, screen time which lacks social cues could hinder children’s ability to mirror emotions and practise responding appropriately.

How much screen time is appropriate for our children?

Now that we know that excessive screen time can hinder (or may even negatively impact) our children’s development, how much screen time is appropriate for our children?

Recommended screen time for

  • Children aged 0 to 18 months: no passive viewing

  • Children between 18 to 36 months: no more than 1 hour of passive viewing (UNICEF, n.d.) 

 

Note: Passive viewing refers to screen viewing without any adult co-viewing and interaction. (E.g. placing a child in front of the TV and walking away.)

 

We understand that engaging our children all the time, without the help of electronic devices, could be extremely tiring and challenging for parents. Here are some practical alternatives that can help you strike a balance! 

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Attention

Research has shown that excessive screen use could result in overstimulation and sensory overload, which could lead to poor focus and attention span (SingHealth, n.d.). 

 

Sleep

Screentime before bed can negatively affect your children’s sleep. The moving graphics, cheerful music and seemingly endless on-demand entertainment they get from the screen, may not only result in your child going to bed later but could also overstimulate their brains such that the children may find it more challenging to fall asleep after (ActiveSG, 2023). Besides the overstimulation of the activity itself, research has also shown that the blue light emitted from digital screens also disrupts the production of melatonin (a sleep hormone responsible for causing feelings of sleepiness), heightening your child’s risk of developing insomnia (Nemours TeensHealth, n.d.).

 

Physical development

Suboptimal levels of physical activities caused by excess screentime could hinder children’s physical development and health. Furthermore, research has also found that children with excessive screen time also tend to have higher obesity rates than children who spend less time in front of screens (SickKids staff, 2020). Hence, it is important for parents to restrict screentime and ensure that their children engage in sufficient physical activities for optimal physical development. 

 

Literacy

Screen time's influence on attention and language skills can result in lower comprehension and literacy levels. Balancing screen time with other activities is hence crucial for overall cognitive development.

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Alternatives and Tips for Parents to Reduce Screen Time for their Children

1. Fun Bag

Pack small toys, snacks, stickers, and books to entertain your child without resorting to screens during outings.

2. Turn off Background TV

Opt for music or audiobooks for entertainment instead! 

3. Sensory Play

Engage your child's senses in activities that promote language, fine and gross motor skills, cognitive growth, and social interaction.

4. Mirror Play

Facilitate your child’s development of self-awareness and social-emotional competencies by allowing your child to play with a mirror.

5. Independent Play

Independent play provides opportunities for our children to develop creativity, problem-solving, confidence, and self-regulation.

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References

ActiveSG. (2023, May 11). Is screen time before bedtime affecting my child's sleep? ActiveSG Circle. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from

https://www.activesgcircle.gov.sg/activehealth/read/screen-time/is-screen-time-before-bedtime-affecting-my-childs-sleep

 

The Empathy Project. (2017, June 13). Kids Today…Are Screens Diminishing Empathy? | by The Empathy Project. Medium. https://medium.com/@empathyprojectonline/kids-today-are-screens-diminishing-empathy-96a52ecc1125

 

HealthHub. (2022). Parent Hub: 0-2 Years - Screen Time. HealthHub. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from https://www.healthhub.sg/programmes/parent-hub/baby-toddler/screen-time

Nemours TeensHealth. (n.d.). Does the Light From a Screen Make it Hard to Sleep? (for Teens) - Nemours KidsHealth. Kids Health. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/blue-light.html

 

SickKids staff. (2020, May 22). Screen time: Overview. AboutKidsHealth. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/article?contentid=643&language=english&utm_source=youngster&utm_medium=youtube&utm_campaign=skf_youngster#/

 

SingHealth. (n.d.). Healthy Screen Use for Young Children. SingHealth. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from https://www.singhealth.com.sg/patient-care/conditions-treatments/healthy-screen-use-for-young-children

 

Spark & Stitch Institute. (2011, June 2). Media Violence and Mirror Neurons. Spark & Stitch Institute. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from https://sparkandstitchinstitute.com/media-violence-and-mirror-neurons/

 

UNICEF. (n.d.). Babies need humans, not screens. UNICEF. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-development/babies-screen-time

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