Let's talk about screen time, which I know can be a hot topic and something we're all trying to wrap our heads around. With Vienna, we'll let her watch one episode at a time (My Little Pony, for example), which is usually around 20 minutes. Occasionally, we'll let her watch two episodes for a total of 40 minutes. I know some families may find this too much and for others, it seems too little. Every family and every child is different and as Vienna grows, this may change, too!
When doing my research, I found that the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day for children, ages 2 to 5, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under age 18 months (except for FaceTime with the grandparents of course!), and no more than one hour per day for ages 2 to 5. At the end of the day, it's a personal preference, and you're going to do what's best for your family. To help navigate this tricky subject, I've invited the brilliant Carly, a Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and founder of WeeTalkers, to answer some questions.
I met Carly over Instagram where she shares genius tips and tricks for encouraging language development in young children! She works with infants and kids, from birth to 5 years old, focusing on language development and the prevention, assessment and treatment of speech, language and communication delays and disorders. Side note: Have you've seen Vienna's placemats in our kitchen (I've shared them on my Insta stories)? These were a gift from Carly when I met her when I was last in Vancouver. The brand is Crocodile Creek and they encourage conversations with your kids!
HI CARLY! TELL ME ABOUT YOUR WORK AND HOW IT TIES INTO SCREEN TIME.
A lot of work I do here in Vancouver and online is about prevention of speech and language problems. So, I know firsthand telling other parents not to use screens can be a bit touchy. I come across this every day as a part of my work because I'm often having to tell parents to reduce screen time. There's research showing that excessive screen time can cause language delays, so I'm passionate about sharing this message with families before it becomes an issue.
Screens and technology are here to stay, so of course, kids will be exposed to them and use them. So, it's not that screen time is so bad, but we as parents should educate ourselves on how to navigate the use of technology in a positive way to support our children.
SO, WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?
Little kids learn how to talk and communicate through face-to-face interactions with responsive adults. Children can not properly develop these crucial skills through the use of screens. There simply is no substitute for the real deal!
Language skills are rapidly developing during the first three years of life, and it’s important for children to have a strong foundation in language development starting early on because these skills are the foundation for so many things like social skills, reading and writing, and relationships with others.
There is a relationship between viewing screens before it is recommended and at a high frequency and speech and language delays, and I have seen this many times in my practice when children under age two are watching shows and using phone apps. Additionally, high amounts of background TV has also been found to negatively affect 'language use and acquisition, attention, cognitive development and executive function in children younger than 5 years. It also reduces the amount and quality of parent-child interaction and distracts from play.'
It should be noted that there are several causes of speech and language delays. Additionally, we don’t always know the cause, but the research is clear that for some children screen time plays a role in their delayed development.
Screens are not horrible, but they are literally EVERYWHERE these days and an incredible tool. Screens are not going anywhere anytime soon, so it’s important to make your own informed decisions regarding this topic and discuss it as a family as your child grows.
So, Are there any positive ways to use screen time for learning with young children?
Quality content can help teach older child vocabulary, spark creative play if they reenact what they see, and teach early literacy skills. I want parents to be informed and empowered about their screen time choices for their kids. If our children are watching more than the recommendations, they don't have time for other important activities that are crucial for their development. I encourage families to focus on having their child do a mix of activities throughout the day with a bit of quality screen time mixed in – if they chose to.
There are definitely some things parents can do to support positive use of screen time for children ages two and up – or 18 months if you’re following the AAP guidelines.
Ideally, parents should choose quality content, co-view the program, discuss it with their child and help make connections to their child’s life.
For example, if your child watches a Daniel Tiger episode about going to the doctor, maybe you could play with a little doctors kit after the show, or talk about a time they visited the doctor. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but just taking a second to discuss something like this is great!
Can you recommend any apps or TV programs?
Common Sense Media is a fantastic resource for TV, app and movie recommendations based on your child’s age, and each item is rated and reviewed by experts based on 'child development best practices.'
This website also has a 'talk to your kids about' section on the review of each TV program to help spark discussion ideas for you. For example, if your child watches Paw Patrol, the website suggests that families could talk about 'the rewards of showing kindness to others as the characters do in Paw Patrol. How does it make you feel when you lift someone else's spirits or lend a hand? Have you ever been the one to need help? How did someone help you?'
Personally, for the preschool age, I like the show Daniel Tiger and the Metamorphabet app.
What's your take on screens during mealtime? This is a big "NO" for us.
Mealtimes are excellent opportunities for connecting as a family. Children learn many communication skills during meals and a lot of important observation and engagement is completely wiped out if children are watching screens. I know it’s tempting to try to keep your child quiet – especially in a restaurant – but in the long run, it will be to their benefit to not allow screens at meals.
Any suggestions for avoiding screens during mealtime? Or, if a family has been using screens during meals, how to transition away?
Parenting is hard, but it’s never too late to make changes as a family and removing screens from mealtime has so many benefits. I know limiting screen time can be challenging, and recognize that for some families this is the only time parents can get a break and recharge. Going into it with a set plan can help.
I would recommend deciding on how much screen time you would like to allow and when and then stick to that plan. If you have a set amount of time and expectations as the parents, the kids will follow your lead if the rules are continually reinforced. They may really protest in the beginning, but eventually, they'll understand the new family expectations. Timers can be helpful. Setting clear expectations and following through on what you say can help a lot.
Think about if your child refused to be in a car seat, of course, you would have to say 'no' and buckle them in. You can think of screens at meals the same way. Make it a non-negotiable and set the example that this is important to your family.
Thanks so much, Carly, for this amazing insight – you're brilliant! One other thing I'd like to mention: Giving your child a supplement with lutein can also help counter some of the negative effects of screens. Lutein is a dietary carotenoid highly concentrated in the retina that helps to filter blue light from screens and protect the retina from oxidative damage. You'll find lutein in Genuine Health-y Kids' Omega3 Kids +D3 supplement, a collaboration between Joyous Health and Genuine Health!