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Is Screen Time for Kids All That Bad?

Charlotte Grainger

Written by Charlotte Grainger

6 min read

Cast your mind back to your earliest childhood memory. You might be playing on a swing or drawing on the floor in your family home. Chances are, in these snapshots, there isn’t a smart device in sight. But times have changed.

Thanks to advancements in technology, screen time starts early for kids these days. At the age of 12 months, children’s average daily screen time is 53 minutes. That increases to 150 minutes when they reach three years old, according to a report published in JAMA.

Child sitting on a white sofa looking at an iPad screen while drinking from his bottle

If you’ve relaxed the screen time rules in your home, don’t worry as you’re not alone. During the pandemic, many of us have relied on these smart devices. You might say tech has become the ‘third parent’ and it’s no wonder. A recent study linked parental stress during the covid-19 outbreak to higher overall screen time for their children. We’re all in the same boat.

But is it all that bad? Within this guide, we’ll take a look at what the research says and how you can be mindful when it comes to your children’s device usage.

The Latest Research on Screen Time

Smart devices are at the heart of modern life. With that in mind, researchers are constantly looking into how the changes in technology affect children’s development. Let’s take a look at what the latest research says and what it means for your family.

Kid in a black top watching TV at home

Smart Devices Can Support Learning

We hear a lot of negative press about screen time, but what about its advantages? From educational apps to ebooks, these devices can be educational treasure chests. Believe it or not, research published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that toddlers are more engaged in electronic books than they are traditional printed books.

As part of the study, parents read either electronic books or print versions to their toddlers. The children whose parents read electronic books paid more attention, were more available for reading, took part in more page turns, and made more comments during reading. The results point to educational electronic devices holding children’s attention better than print.

Bluelight Isn’t As Bad As You Think

Staring at a screen for hours on end has to be bad for kids’ eyesight, right? Well, the answer is more complex than you might imagine. While you might have heard a load of hype surrounding bluelight, the latest research may surprise you.

There’s no strong evidence that bluelight hinders your kids’ eyesight, according to research from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. However, the experts did suggest that the lack of blinking caused by screen time could be an issue if you ignore it. If your kids fail to blink they will experience dry eyes and eye strain, which you want to avoid.

Toddlers reading an e-book on an electronic device

Screen Time May Hinder Sleep (or Not!)

Here’s the big one: Does screen time hinder kids’ sleep? There’s conflicting evidence here. While some research links screen time to disruptions in young children’s sleep, there’s contrary evidence that suggests its impact is not significant.

Research from the National University of Singapore suggests that exposure to screen devices for kids younger than 18 months with emotional and behaviour disorders could trigger elevated sleep disruption. However, it’s worth noting that children who fall into this category will naturally have more problems when it comes to sleeping each night.

On the other hand, research from the University of Oxford suggests that screen time has very little ‘practical effect’ on children's sleep. The experts acknowledged the link between sleep and screen time but said that it was ‘modest’. The researchers went on to say that this link could lead to false results of smaller studies. Be cautious about what you read.

How to Be More Mindful of Screen Time

While there are numerous studies on the impact of screen time on small children, nothing is 100% conclusive. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend children between one and four years old shouldn’t have more than one hour of sedentary screen time at a time.

However, there’s no guidance on how much parents should limit device use on a daily basis. The University of Oxford have released recent research suggesting that existing guidance managing children’s screen time may not be as beneficial as we first thought.

With that in mind, it’s up to you to decide what’s right for your little ones. Moderation is key. Here’s a handful of tricks you could use to become more mindful of your kids’ screen time.

Child using an educational app on an iPad

Stick to the 20/20 Rule

Worried about the impact of screen time on your child’s eyesight? Luckily, there’s a simple way you can look out for their vision. The experts from the University of Oxford recommend they take 20-second breaks from looking at screens every 20 minutes.

When your little one is playing on a tablet or smartphone, set a timer for yourself. Every 20 minutes, you can create a distraction to get your child’s attention and have them look up. For example, you might ask them a question or show them something outside. 

Choose educational apps and resources

Embracing technology and using it as an educational tool is a savvy way to help your little ones. Packing your kid’s smart device with the right apps and ebooks will support their learning. Looking for some inspiration? Here are some of the resources you might use:

Limit Screen Time Before Bed

As we have covered, it’s unclear whether screen time harms your child’s sleep. Despite this, one handy tip is to limit usage directly before bed. For instance, you may decide to turn all of your kid’s devices off an hour before their regular bedtime. Establishing this rule is a simple way to cut back on screen time and making the evening routine easier to manage.

Toddler in a red top playing with a smart device

Conclusion

There are both positives and negatives to screen time for kids. When used well, smart devices can be remarkable educational tools. However, excessive amounts of screen time could hinder your child’s sleep. Getting it right is all about balance. Follow our tips for being mindful of technology in general and go easy on yourself.

 

About EasyPeasy

EasyPeasy App tips on iPhoneThe EasyPeasy App is full of tips for parents of toddlers along with play ideas and activities created with trusted brands like The Scouts and NCT. And all of these fit easily into your daily parenting routines! So whether you need new games to play in the afternoon or fun ways to prevent tantrums at bedtime, we've got you covered breakfast to bedtime.

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