These days children younger than 1 year old are being exposed to television and other electronic devices such as cell phones and tablets. With rapid technological advancement in the recent years, the number of electronic devices in each household has increased. There is some research that points to negative effects of electro-magnetic frequency (EMF) on the health outcomes of the consumers. Since the brains of the children are not fully developed and have thinner skull, the impact of these frequencies on the child’s brain could be higher. Currently, there is limited research on long term effects of EMF’s on children, so a preventative and precautionary approach is recommended.
A child’s brain is developing rapidly during the first 3 to 5 years of life, therefore the information that the child can absorb during these years is unparalleled to any other stage of life. Hence, it is crucial that caregivers engage with a toddler in various sensorimotor activities, interactive play, communication, educational toys, and books. Proportionately high screen time for toddlers has been linked with language delays, attention problems, obesity, and lower scholastic achievement later in life. This is because screen time reduces the amount of interaction that the caregiver has with the child. Children learn languages through interactions with the caregivers. Humans are hard wired to learn best from the caregivers’ voices, tones, and words as it has long lasting impact on the memory of the child than any other electronic device can fulfil. There is a short window for learning languages in early childhood and it can become very difficult later on in life to learn a new language. Even just having the TV switched on in the background can impact the language development of the child. This is so because the child and the parent are distracted and there is not much quality interaction or attunement between the child and the parent.
Here are some specific suggestions for parents with toddlers and preschoolers-
- Limit the duration of quality screen time to 1- 2 hours every day for preschoolers. Make sure that the child is engaged in educational shows during that time. Try to sit along with the child and engage in a discussion with the child regarding the educational content of the show. This is called active watching rather than passive watching. The child can develop critical thinking skills if the caregiver engages with the child regarding the content of the show.
- Parental supervision is suggested for monitoring the content of the shows that the child is watching. Violent or aggressive content on TV has been linked to aggressive behaviour among kids.
- Avoid feeding children during screen time. Children are not good multitaskers. They can focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking can be overwhelming for children. When children focus on eating food themselves, then they master their sensorimotor skills and tend to interact with adults. If you just feed the child while they are glued to a screen, the child does not recognize the fruits and vegetables that one is eating. The food is also not getting well digested if the child is not focusing on chewing the food properly, which can lead to digestive problems.
- Limit your own use of multiple devices. Children learn from observing parents than what is being told to them. If the parents could avoid using their devices in front of their children and only use if it is important work, then the child will understand the rules around using the screen time. Try to create tech-free spaces in your home. This will encourage the child to use his creative abilities to engage with other playful activities or develop new interaction patterns with the family members.
- Limit the screen watching for day time only. The blue rays emitted by the cell phones and tablets tend to impact the sleep hormone levels for both children and adults. Research has shown that screen time is associated with irregular sleep pattern among children below 3 years of age. Poor sleep pattern can have negative impact on attention and mood levels of a child.
- The best way to stimulate creativity of a child is to provide things to build or manipulate some objects with which one can construct something. Provide any simple household items such as brooms, pans, and spoons to play with. These simple games are much better than automated toys where the child is passively interacting with the toy.