How old should children be before starting to have screen time? How do electronic devices affect children’s development? Why shouldn’t screen time be used as a reward? If you want to know the answers to these questions, read on!
How old should children be to use mobile devices?
In the digital world, it’s not possible to completely eliminate children’s contact with mobile devices and screens, but intensive use at too young an age can be harmful.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under 2 should have no contact with mobile devices. Why is this so important? The human mind develops most intensely in its earliest years. Of course, it’s worth investing in educational and high-contrast toys, which support sensory development and stimulate the mind. Young children should have the freedom to explore the world with all of their senses, but not through the prism of a screen. Colorful, fast-changing images on screens and intense sounds can easily overstimulate a young mind.
Slightly older children, aged 3 to 6 years, can be given touch screens, though a few rules should be followed. They can be found in places including the website of the Mama, tata, tablet campaign from the Nobody’s Children Foundation, which is based on guidelines from experts including the AAP. These rules include:
- choose age-appropriate content – the kind of material that has educational value and is child-friendly
- limit screen time – children shouldn’t use devices every day; for more than 15 minutes at a time; or for more than 30-120 minutes a day (depending on their age)
- be with your children while they’re using mobile devices, to explain to them what they’re seeing, help them use the knowledge about the world that they’re gaining and use the time together for parent-child interaction
- don’t let children use devices that emit blue light just before bedtime, as this can make it difficult to fall asleep and worsen sleep quality
- don’t use mobile devices as a form of reward or punishment, as this can affect their attractiveness in the child’s eyes, and increase attachment to them.
- don’t use devices to motivate children to eat, exercise or maintain hygiene.
Meanwhile, as you can read in the results of the 2015 quantitative research report Korzystanie z urządzeń mobilnych przez małe dzieci w Polsce (Use of mobile devices by young children in Poland) by the Nobody’s Children Foundation:
- as many as 64% of children aged from 6 months to 6.5 years use mobile devices, of whom a quarter use them daily
- for children younger than 2, the figures are more than 40% and almost 30% respectively
- the percentage of 5- and 6-year-olds who use mobile devices is rising to as much as 84%
Photo: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Consequences of excessive use of electronics
As the report mentions, the AAP cautions that overuse of such devices by children can lead to effects including:
- difficulty learning
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty in developing interpersonal skills
What’s more, excessive screen time can have a negative effect on children’s language abilities – the development of speech, reading comprehension and vocabulary building.
Children who use electronic devices in early childhood (rather than getting to know their peers outside the virtual world) don’t have the opportunity to develop their communication skills and problem-solving abilities, which they acquire in natural interpersonal situations.
Of course, sitting in front of a tablet, laptop or telephone also means less movement and outdoor play, which can affect the health and wellbeing of children, among whom obesity is increasingly common.
Nor can we forget that the blue light emitted by screens can significantly reduce the quality of sleep. In children and teens, artificial light reduces the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that promotes sleep.
Why do parents let children use mobile devices?
The answer to this question is complex, because it depends on the individual parent. But it’s possible to identify a few of the most common reasons why parents agree to let their young children use mobile devices.
Asked about this in a survey by the Nobody’s Children Foundation, parents responded that they most often allow this when they have matters they have to attend to (69%) – these can be either work obligations, household chores or the need for “time for myself.” Almost half of parents treat access to telephones or tablets as a form of reward for their children, a sort of buying them off (49%). In both cases the percentage is higher the older the children are.
A significant share of parents (19%) use smartphones to get their children to eat. The younger the child, the more often this happens – 34% of 2-year-olds have access to mobile electronic devices while eating. Almost 15% of parents try to help children sleep using mobile devices.
Photo: Alexander Dummer on Unsplash
Control over children’s use of the Internet and mobile devices is important regardless of their age. But without a doubt, it’s precisely these youngest children who need the most protection, and constant monitoring both of the content they’re watching and of the amount of time they spend on it. Our application addresses parents’ needs by allowing you to:
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Main photo: McKaela Taylor on Unsplash