“Kids and screen time” has become a buzz phrase as child development professionals grow increasingly concerned about the negative effects of screens being introduced at too young an age, and children spending too much time in front of them. But what about YOUR screen time? What effects does it have on your little one’s development?
According to researchers and experts, parents’ and caregivers’ screen time may negatively affect children in a few key ways.
How Your Screen Time May Negatively Affect Your Child
It can interrupt valuable, brain-building connections. During the early years, your child’s brain develops at lightening speed, and that development lays the groundwork for every area of her future. According to experts like the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, optimal brain development depends on meaningful interactions between her and you. From day one, being attuned to your child and thoughtfully responding to her cues is essential. Studies on smartphone use and parenting/caregiving show that children learn less and display more attention-seeking behaviors when the adults around them are looking at their phones.
It can damage your child’s self-esteem. Your child’s healthy self-esteem starts with loving attention from you, from day one. According to research by psychologist and author Catherine Steiner-Adair, children as young as 4 express feeling sad and mad about their parents’ technology use. What’s more, they say they feel less important than their parents’ electronic devices. Even babies and toddlers can pick up on and react emotionally to parents being distracted or tuned-out.
It can disrupt your child’s developing attention span. Research shows that “joint attention” (when a parent or caregiver actively focuses on the same thing as a child) powerfully supports a child’s developing attention span. When a parent or caregiver’s gaze wanders during joint attention (at it would to glance at an incoming text message), the child’s attention wanders, too.
It can make you unhappy. When it comes to your child’s happiness, the number-one thing you can do to nurture it is get happier yourself. Study after study shows that technology use can wreak havoc on your mood, especially when social media is involved. It can make you feel depressed and irritable, and even create distance between you and your partner.
It can increase your child’s likelihood of getting injured. Thanks to an economist who tracked how AT&T rolled out smartphone service at different times in different areas, we know that as smartphone use increased in each area, so did childhood ER visits. The assumption is that parents/caregivers can become so absorbed in their smartphones that they miss opportunities to redirect little ones from dangerous situations.
What You Can Do
Your little one doesn’t need your undivided attention all the time, but when you give it to her, connect fully. Even brief periods of being fully-present with her are far more valuable than longer periods when you’re half-present.
Experts suggest two main ways to create boundaries around your technology use so you can offer your child periods of valuable, focused attention:
Declare certain times of the day “technology free”. Some routines lend themselves to connection: Playing together for 10 minutes before dinner, eating together, chatting during bath time, or sharing books and cuddles before bed. During these times, silence or turn off your devices. If you still feel tempted to check them, put them in a drawer or another room.
Check your smartphone when your child is safely engaged with something else. Children need meaningful interactions with you, but it’s also good for them to spend time playing alone. Take advantage of your little one’s independent play time in a safe, baby-proofed area to answer an email, or check your BabySparks app to plan activities to do with her that day. Because she still needs supervision, it’s best to save engrossing technology activities (like social media or reading articles) for when she’s asleep or in someone else’s care.
Balancing the benefits and drawbacks of technology can be tricky. But when it comes to your child, creating technology-free periods of time each day goes a long way.