Establishing screen time limitations is a difficult task to accomplish even during normal times. But in this pandemic, with many children and adults spending so much of their time at home in front of screens for school and work, this is an even more challenging issue. Screen time can be bad for children, especially babies whose brains are still developing. One well done study from 2018 by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell showed an association between higher levels of screen time and preschool children with:
- Higher likelihood to lose their temper
- Less likely to calm down when excited
- Less likely to switch tasks without anxiety or anger
- Lower self control (which includes perseverance, sitting still, completing simple tasks, and not becoming distracted
And teens with:
- Trouble staying calm
- Not finishing tasks
- Not being curious
- Arguing too much with caregivers
- Increased difficulty caring for others
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations to help limit screen use in children and teens: https://www.healthychildren.
org/English/family-life/Media/ Pages/Where-We-Stand-TV- Viewing-Time.aspx. We agree with these suggestions. but generally advise that families delay screen time introduction as long as possible even beyond 18 months of age. Practicing mindfulness, increasing time spent outdoors, reading together are particularly important tools to employ these days. We also recognize burn out and that parents sometimes need a break. Being able to distract your child with screen time is something that may seem like a blessing in the immediate moment but may cause more issues later. Trying to find strategic alternatives to screens such as offering less stimulating toys that provide no feedback, playing with kitchen utensils while a parent cooks, doing tactile activities such as drawing or playing with play-doh, or just playing outside with other children in a safe, socially distant manner (ie biking, walking with masks) are excellent alternatives that have been found to increase a child’s sense of creativity and problem solving skills and ones that will serve their mental health well for the rest of their lives. Parents can model mindfulness and good habits by trying to limit phone and screen use in front of children; read newspapers and books rather than reading from an electronic device; eat at the table together with the family; talk and engage with children and have lively discussions, and of course getting good sleep each night.