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How to manage your child’s development in a digital world

How much TV is too much TV ? While this answer can vary for adults who indulge in binge-watching sessions of their favorite show, the same should never apply to children.  Many parents often seek the advice of pediatricians on how early to expose your children to the lights and sounds of the readily-available electronic babysitter.

There are television shows, You-Tube videos, and even apps on your phone that can be used to keep a toddler or infant at bay. However, children under two years old should not be exposed to screen-time, including “educational apps” or Face Time. This long standing recommendation comes from the Canadian Paediatric Society. In June of this year, the CPS released new guidelines on screen-time for young children after finding that too many children under the age of four are sedentary —something that is often caused by excessive screen time.

Children between two and five are should only be online less than one hour a day, and this is with the proper supervision of the parent or caretaker. This means parents shouldn’t simply hand the device over to their child and walk away. Many parents of young children choose not to expose their children to television or any of these digital devices over fears of what the child may absorb from the media.

Children’s minds need to be enriched, but this can be done through proper family time, meaning parents should put down  their own devices and focus their time on the child. Time spent reading and doing interactive physical activities, like building blocks and flash cards, will be more beneficial than an electronic device, which is more distracting.

Michelle Ponti, is a London, Ontario pediatrician who is a part of the team that wrote the new Canadian guidelines and concluded from the study that screen-time does nothing for infants and toddlers.

” The youngest children cannot learn from screens. They are not developmentally ready to transfer what they see on a screen to real life.” Ponti said.

While studies have shown that high quality educational shows, for instance Sesame Street, can be good for a pre- schooler’s educational learning ability, the concern comes from how much time is spent in front of the screen. These electronic platforms cause the loss of one-on-one contact with children, resulting in loss of proper eye contact, hyper activity, distracted tendencies and other learning issues. Most of the negative observations arose after children watched more than two hours of television.

These small changes can have an impact on future behaviour and development of your child. Indeed, some situations may seem overwhelming, but parents should keep in mind that handing off a screen to your child has no educational benefit.

The CPS guidelines are a bit different from those across the border in the US. The American Academy of Pediatrics made a special exception for cases including Skype or Face-Time, which doctors may not necessarily categorize as screen-time.

Nevertheless, both US and Canadian pediatricians agree that parents today need to consider more than 10 years ago, when screen-time from electronic devices were limited or almost non-existent. You should also consider how your own parents may have practiced learning activities with you. This often included learning blocks, books or bouncy chairs.

Remember to minimize screen-time and be a healthy model for your child as they develop in a digital world.

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