For the media

Screen time for tots: Is it all bad?

By The Health News Team | September 20, 2023
Toddler clapping to the TV

Today’s TV and online programming is bustling with tot-centric superstars, from Miss Rachel to Daniel the Tiger. And while some seem to creatively teach valuable life lessons, experts still steer parents away from defaulting to a device.

Statistics have shown that too much screen time can lead to a myriad of health problems, including:

  • Obesity

  • Irregular sleep

  • Behavioral problems

  • Trouble in school

  • Violent tendencies

  • Reduced play

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, media should be extremely limited for kids under 2, and the experience should be interactively shared with a parent or caregiver. After that, and up to age 5, kids should watch no more than an hour of media a day with a parent or caregiver. What's more, the programming should be very “high quality.”

But what defines high quality?

Dr. Ahmad Bailony, a pediatrician affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, says it’s less about the show itself, and more about how you use it.

“Yes, there are shows that have more beneficial elements than others,” he says. “Something like ‘CoComelon’ uses short scenes, whereas ‘Bluey’ presents longer scenarios that encourage kids to focus. But at the end of the day, any TV should be more of a supplement. Nothing can ever replace the human connection a kid forms when they’re learning from a parent.”

Supplementing learning through media

According to Dr. Bailony, it’s tough for kids under 2 to relate what they see on a screen to what's happening in the world around them. As a tot's brain matures, they can better make the connection. Interactively watching media with your child can be both a bonding experience and a way to help them grow.

Some ways to make this happen include:

Asking questions

Hone in on the theme of a show and highlight what the lesson may be. For younger tots, that could be something like, “What does the monkey say when we visit the zoo?” And for preschool kids, it might be, “How did that character feel when he was left out?”

Focusing on feelings

One of the biggest benefits of media for small kids is the opportunity to show kindness and compassion. Use on-screen scenarios to help demonstrate how actions have consequences and kindness is always the right answer.

Encouraging problem solving

Most shows have a problem to solve, whether it’s identifying matching colors or something more in-depth, like how to put on a musical performance without instruments. Present your child with a problem and work out together how to come up with a solution.

Identifying role models

Without accentuating the “villain” in a story, encourage your child to see characters who are modeling good behavior. Seeing the act of sharing on the screen can help them strive to be their own hero and demonstrate sharing on the playground.

Making life connections

Look for opportunities to normalize real-life situations that may be new or daunting to your child. If they are fearful of a teeth cleaning, pointing out characters who visit the dentist can ease uncertainties around it.

Go easy on media use … and yourself

As every parent knows, the temptation to hand over the remote and take a parenting break can, at times, be overwhelming. According to Dr. Bailony, that’s OK.

“It’s easy to feel like a failure if you use a screen as a crutch once in a while,” he says. “Just make sure you are always planning out some time to set aside that is device-free. These things are all about balance.”

To ensure media is not becoming a dominant factor, carve out time for child-led play. By keeping things free-flowing, and letting your child take the lead, you get a chance to build a powerful connection, and see what their tiny minds come up with.

“When spending quality screen-free time with your child, be sure to turn your own device off for a while,” says Dr. Bailony. “It’s healthy for the both of you, and you’ll soon discover how precious that time can be.”

Learn more about children’s health; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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