How does screen time affect our little ones?
The Debate brings together the latest scientific evidence, including findings from our own TABLET project, with current guidelines for screen use.
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We want to know how families make decisions about screen time. What do you think are the pros and cons? And does greater understanding about the complex question of toddler screen time increase confidence to make decisions that work for your family?
How old is your child/children? (Please select as many as applicable).
Tell us what you think about touchscreen use in children:
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How confident do you feel when making choices about screen time in your family?
What others have said about touchscreen use in children...
“Screens are good to communicate with friends and family who are far away.”
“Good for following instructions and learning. However, too often and too long isn't good.”
“We live in a world of touchscreens, children need to learn to use them just as they learn to eat with a knife and fork.”
“Toddlers don't have to use touchscreens; it’s parents who give them to the toddlers. Parents need to understand the issues better.”
Tell us what you think about touchscreen use in children?
The scientific studies needed to inform evidence-based guidelines are still in their infancy, especially when it comes to new portable media such as smartphones and tablets. However, several international agencies have decided to issue guidelines to parents as a precaution. The leading agency in this field is the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) who make several concrete suggestions (AAP, 2016; full recommendations here):
0 –17 months – no screen time (except for video calls)
18 – 24 months – a limited amount of screen time
2 – 5 year olds – one hour a day or high quality content
BUT, the UK’s Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) criticised the American guidelines; they argue that they’re not all based on strong evidence (RCPCH, 2019). The only recommendation they feel confident to make is for all children to avoid screens in the hour before bed (further explanation within Sleep section of Evidence below).
The UK’s Chief Medical Officers also suggest a ‘precautionary approach’ balanced against the potential benefits of using screen devices (Davies et al., 2019).
The picture is very muddled and meanwhile parents are making decisions about their child's screen time on a daily basis. To help ease the stress of these decisions there are various 'Resources' available online.
General advice for managing screen time
How to choose developmentally and age-appropriate TV programs?
How to choose appropriate apps?
Tips on parenting and general development
General child health tips
Several studies have reported consistent evidence that longer screen use during the day is associated with sleep problems (Carter et al., 2016).
What do you think? Do your children (or you!) use devices before bed? How feasible would it be to follow the AAP guidelines?
Hand and Finger control
A child's ability to manipulate objects with their hands (known as "fine-motor control") rapidly develops over the first few years of life and is an important skill for the child's growing independence. The evidence for how touchscreen use is associated with the development of fine motor ability is still very limited. However, several studies, including our own, have shown that increased touchscreen use, particularly active use of the screen, is associated with better fine motor skills, such as stacking blocks, drawing lines etc (Bedford et al., 2016; Moon et al., 2019; Souto et al., 2019).
Children with good hand and finger control may be good at both stacking blocks and swiping a screen. In other words, it may be that both touchscreen use and fine motor tasks such as stacking blocks are measuring the same thing – the child’s level of proficiency in hand and finger control.
Practising hand movements like pinching and swiping on the screen might transfer to real-world actions such as holding a pencil, or vice versa!