As parents increasingly rely on screens and mobile devices as babysitters, their children, whether toddlers or tweens, are paying the price.
Fact is, putting a tablet in a young child’s hand is no substitute for parent/child interaction.There’s an important difference between young children passively consuming media on a screen, no matter how educational the content, and actively using it to communicate. Watching a video isn’t the same, for instance, as Skyping or Facetiming with grandparents . It’s human interaction that enables vital brain development during the pre-toddler years. What’s more, children learn better with materials they can touch versus what they see on screen. In other words, learning concepts in three dimensions is far more effective than two.
When parents don’t spend time talking to babies and toddlers, it creates a major gap in their language skills. But increasingly parents are also using their own screens to tune out from older children. A small study at Boston Medical Center found that about 75% of adults took out a mobile device almost immediately when they were eating with their kids at a fast food restaurant. In another study, children reported that they felt frustrated and were more likely to act out when their parents were on devices.
The consequences of too much screen time are even greater with tweens and teens. Kids need face-to-face social interaction to develop empathy and sensitivity to others. A 2014 UCLA study found that compared to peers who spend hours a day glued to their devices, 6th graders who spent five days at a nature camp where they had to give up their smartphones, tv or other digital screens were better able to read human emotions and identify feelings, whether happy or angry, sad or scared, when they looked at people in photographs and videos.
Screen overload also takes a toll on kids’ academic performance. According to research by British scientists, teens who spend just one extra hour a day on the internet, watching TV or playing computer games saw their exam scores
drop two grades (from say, a B to D). And research conducted by MIT professor and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle, author of “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” finds that college students, with their ubiquitous phones, “are having a harder time with the give-and-take of face-to-face conversation.”
So what can we do?
Set limits, offer alternative to screen time, and set an example…