Who here is a parent to a toddler who has not given a smartphone to her child to keep him occupied? If that question were asked in a room full of parents, we'd be surprised if a lot of hands went up.
Modern parenting involves technology. “We're living in a world where the digital age is here. It's a reality. It's a tool that's necessary,” says Michelle Lichauco-Tambunting, co-founder and directress of Young Creative Minds Preschool, during "Smart Parenting's Mom Workshop: Raising Toddlers" held last March. Michelle, who graduated from Harvard University with master's degree in education, says the best thing to do is to learn how to best work with gadgets and devices, not against them.
And that means monitoring your child's screen time use. "If we want the digital world to work for us, we all need to learn to control it,” adds Lichauco-Tambunting. A new study can help give you that extra motivation to avoid using gadgets as a distraction tool for your kids.
Researchers from the Birbeck University of London surveyed more than 700 U.K. parents of toddlers, aged 3 years old and below. The new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that children, aged between 6 and 11 months, got less sleep and took longer to sleep when they spent more time playing with touch-screen devices during the day. The toddlers also got more sleep during the day than at night.
The average amount of time toddlers use these gadgets exponentially increased as they grow old. On a daily basis, infants ages six to 11 months old used touch screens for about eight minutes, kids ages 12 to 18 months used them for 19 minutes, while kids ages 19 to 25 months used the devices for 25 minutes daily. And as touch-screen time increased among younger children, it cut into their time for sleep, the researchers found. As a result, for every hour the kids use the gadgets, they lose about 15 minutes of less sleep time for tots on average.
If you think a quarter of an hour is not much, think again. "It isn't a massive amount when you're sleeping 10 to 12 hours a day in total, but every minute matters in young development because of the benefits of sleep," lead study author Dr. Tim Smith, a lecturer in cognitive psychology, told the BBC News. The team hopes to examine the long-term effects of touch-screen use on children's brains, development, and cognitive abilities. What is certain is that using these devices are affecting the kids' sleep quality.
Experts have previously recommended stopping the use smartphones, tablets, and watching TV hours before bedtime. Studies had linked poor sleep with the light emitted by these devices. A recent study linked that gadgets, even when turned off, can be psychologically stimulating for kids, thus, preventing them from falling asleep faster.
However, Smith and his colleagues didn't go as far as banning kiddos from using tablets, smartphones, and the like. As it is, technology has its benefits, too. It's part of everyday life now, and all parents can do is manage their children's screen times and only offer the tablet as a last resort. Adapting a bedtime routine sans gadgets is also a must.
The new recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest children below 18 months should avoid screens altogether, except when video-chatting with family. Kids aged 18 to 24 months can be allowed to use screens as long as parents choose high-quality, age-appropriate shows. The AAP stresses that parents should also watch with their tots.
For tips on how to help kids reconnect with the real world, click here.