We know we sound like a broken record here already, but we need to think twice (or thrice) before introducing screens to our babies and toddlers.
Let's review: According to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children below 18 months should avoid screens altogether, and the only exception is when it’s used for video-chatting. Children a little older, those between 18 and 24 months, are allowed screens provided that parents choose high-quality programming. (Read more about screen time recommendations here.)
Recently, French child psychiatrist, Dr. Anne-Lise Ducanda, explained the possible dangers of prolonged screen time for kids 2 years and below on a YouTube video (spoken in French with English subtitles). They mentioned problems with communication, socialization, and, yes, brain development.
Take children’s TV shows for example. They seem harmless and are even described as educational. But when a child gets used to watching the screen instead of interacting with his environment, he might find it difficult to understand simple instructions. Characters in TV shows often ask the child to repeat words or numbers, or teach them to count, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the child understands what he is saying. Your child may be able to count up to a hundred, but if you ask him to hand you two cubes, he will not know what the number two represents. It is because he only repeats without learning.
Here are more reasons to limit screen exposure, according to Dr. Ducanda.
1. Screens hinder a child from developing his sense of touch. “A small child’s brain develops like this: He manipulates the toys and explores his actual environment with his hands. He tastes with his mouth,” says Dr. Ducanda. A child’s brain cannot develop fully without his sense of touch.
2. Screens prevent your child from exploring his environment. It isolates him instead. If a child is handed a ball, for example, he can start analyzing it with his senses. He’ll realize that it’s round, or that when he squeezes it, it becomes deformed. When he throws the ball and it rolls toward the wall, his brain can analyze what he has just done. But if he is continuously exposed to the screen, the successive flashes of light and images will capture his attention, and he will have difficulty withdrawing his attention from it. “He can go on for hours just staring at the screen, and it will stop him from exploring his surroundings,” adds Dr. Ducanda.
3. It prevents language development. The child can better learn and understand a language if human interaction is involved. If someone talks to him, looks at him, addresses him, and talk to him about what he’s doing. For example, if a dad says to his son while looking at him, “Nathan, come here and I’ll help you put on your coat and we’ll go outside,” and the dad does the action at the same time he speaks, the child will understand what his dad just said, because there is simultaneous action. But if the child hears the same sentence in a cartoon, and it doesn’t address him directly, the words will just wash over him and make no sense.
Based on Dr. Ducanda’s experience, children who are overexposed to screens show troubling symptoms that are similar to autism spectrum disorder. She recommends limiting screen time (including gadget and game console use, and television watching) to a maximum of one hour per day. As an alternative, Dr. Ducanda suggests conversations with the child and games like role play.