Screen Time Recommendations for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

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Earlier this year, the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association released a new pdf handout for parents about screen time to clear up the often-conflicting recommendations on screen time and technology usage by children.

The information focuses on children ages 1 to 3 years who are, as the promotional literature from ASHA says, “in a unique developmental period during which they build the foundational language, learning, literacy, and social–emotional skills they’ll need for life. This is also a time when many children begin to use tablets, smartphones, and other screens—which can interrupt their healthy development.”

Amen!

Almost anytime I’m in a retail store, I see toddlers riding in the cart with their little eyes fixated on a screen, rather than all the interesting things going on around them. While I certainly understand a parent’s need for a diversion for their child while they’re shopping, I wish I could encourage them to think about the rich teaching opportunities all around them. Just labeling what you’re buying and talking to your child about what he is looking at is all it takes.

The other thing I wish I could tell parents is that even though it looks like your baby is enjoying the show, research says that children don’t process visual and auditory information the same way adults do because they don’t have the language skills to fully comprehend what they’re seeing: chiefly, fast-moving pictures and rapid-fire dialogue.

There are a couple of wonderful quotes I want to share with you from the press release about the new handout.

“Managing screen time can be one of the more vexing challenges families face—and screen usage contributes to a lot of parental anxiety, guilt, stress, and frustration,” said Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD. Dr. Navsaria is a pediatrician, an early literacy advocate, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s (UWM) School of Medicine and Public Health, and an associate professor of human development and family studies at UWM’s School of Human Ecology. Dr. Navsaria helped develop Be Tech Wise With Toddler!

He continued: “The pandemic has only heightened this challenge, as parents and caregivers are stretched so thin. So, to help parents balance the very real needs in their life while still protecting and promoting the healthy development of their children, we’re trying to educate families about why screen-free time is so critical. Despite advertiser claims, young children don’t benefit from electronic devices, apps, or technology-enabled toys. And while screens may seem to solve a temper tantrum or other behavioral issue in the moment, they are just that: a temporary solution. They can make life more difficult in the long run as children increasingly demand them—and lose their ability to self-soothe and work through their own emotions in the process. These are skills they will need for life.  This resource offers a frame for families to consider as they parent their children at their best moments, worst moments, and every time in between.”

Again, amen!

The handout also contains the most recent screentime recommendations for families from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Under 18 months: No screen time except for video chatting with loved ones.
• 18–24 months: A small amount, at most, of high-quality programming, if you choose.
• 2–5 years: A maximum of 1 hour per day. “Co-view” (watch together) rather than have young children (of any
age) use screens while alone.

Before you think I’m sounding pretty hardline about this, please know that I violated this with my own children. If I had it to do over again, they’d be like their dad and me in our home now… no TV.

However, complete elimination isn’t always realistic, as the brochure points out, and using the guidelines above may be the “happy medium” solution many families are looking for.

Video chatting with loved ones is a recommended activity for any age! Instead of finding a show or movie, calling a grandparent or another family member can also be the distraction a child needs AND he’s getting real life interaction rather than watching something he can’t quite understand yet.

As you can see with the picture for this post, video chatting is a favorite activity for our family. I can’t believe I get to “babysit” from 14 hours away while mom gets ready, does some housework, or (for you fellow therapists!) completes a report!

I showed this picture to a friend of mine, and she asked me, “What do you do on a video call with a baby?”

The same things you do in real life!

We talk, sing, babble back and forth, and sometimes, we read a book. Recently, I’ve developed a couple of cute play routines with a baby doll we use during the calls. Lots of days it looks and sounds more like a speech teletherapy session, but sometimes, it’s just us hanging out. I talk about what he’s doing (eating a peanut butter puff from Target, banging a toy, or looking at things he drops from his high chair to the floor) and of course, sometimes, I just sit and stare at him… Oh, how your LaLa loves you!

My point is this… when your child seems to “need” a screen or you “need” your child to have a screen, pause to think about your content. While watching a movie here and there certainly won’t harm a child, we should provide better, more developmentally-appropriate opportunities for learning language when there’s another option.

The handout I mentioned includes lots of practical advice about that and language learning in general.

Take a look if you haven’t seen it…

The family-friendly informational piece is perfect for sharing with families. Here’s the link so you can download and have it ready for your visits next week!

Be Tech Wise With Toddler!

Other posts about screen time:

No TV… One Year Later

Still No TV for Me

 

 

 

 

Laura

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