APS Column: Healthy screen time habits

Published 6:05 pm Friday, December 16, 2022

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By Melissa Kossoris

School Psychologist

Screens are everywhere and navigating a technology rich world can be a challenge for both parents and children. Unlike times in the past, parents and caregivers might be asking when a child is ready for a smart phone or if a video game is age appropriate. The answers to these questions can differ from one family to the next. There are many benefits to technology, but one common thread throughout research is the importance of having a lifestyle that involves healthy screen time balance at all ages. When families create healthy screen time habits and routines, it allows for the presence of a variety of important activities and interactions that are vital to child development.

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In the first three years of a child’s life, 80% of brain development occurs. A review of data provided by Children’s Screen Time Action Network and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association provided the following statistics.

Brains grow best through human connections that support talking, reading, and playing. Studies have shown that parents speak fewer words when they are using a smart phone. When adults are looking down at devices, it makes it harder for them to notice emotional cues and the needs of a child and creates missed opportunities to bond and communicate. When babies and young children are given a screen to distract them when upset, it can be harder for them to learn how to self-soothe. There is also research indicating that excessive screen use can cause delays in speech and language development. There is no evidence that experiences on screens provide the benefits of real-life interactions and play.

Children acquire skills through their daily experiences that prepare them for school even before they enter a school building. At Woodson Kindergarten Center, staff have been learning methods through the guidance of Conscious Discipline. In this guidance there is a brain principle that says, “Connections on the outside with other people build neuro connections on the inside.” These neuro connections support impulse control, motivate us for a willingness to behave, and focus attention so we can stay attentive to a task. These connections need four things: eye-contact, touch, presence, and playful situations. This may look like: reading a book with your child, going on nature walks, conversations during mealtimes and engaging in games.

Emotional and impulse control, social interaction skills and having the ability to wait and attend to a variety of activities are the building blocks for academic and social success at school. Excessive screen use can hinder the development of these skills. Children imitate what their caregivers do. Therefore, it is encouraged that caregivers and other adults model healthy screen time habits, so children can experience what their brains need. What the brain does more of, the brain gets better at.