How much technology is too much?

How much technology is too much?

By Sonal Mistry

Sonal Mistry is an Early Literacy Specialist with the Parent Resource Centre in Ottawa

Technology can be a great learning tool for your child-- if it's used the right way. The Parent Resource Centre offers some guidelines to keep in mind.

"I can't believe my toddler knows how to take pictures with my smart phone!"

"My infant loves to read on the tablet. I can tell because she tries to touch the characters on the screen."

These statements are becoming increasingly common in today's conversations. Young children, as young as a few months old, are being immersed in a world filled with technology.

Research shows that children ages 0-2 years are watching roughly 2.5 hours of TV a day, and children ages 3-5 are watching 4.5 hours a day. These are significant numbers, considering the number of waking hours a child has in a day!

Not only are they being exposed to technology for entertainment purposes, they are being encouraged to use technology to read, to draw, and to learn about the world around them.

There are many benefits that new technology has brought to the table. We are now able to easily access e-books, , connect with relatives across the globe in real time, or even virtually explore with a simple click, swipe or tap. However, we need to consider what increased screen time and limited "real time" means for this new generation and how we can ensure that children  also continue to develop physically, socially and cognitively.

Guidelines

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends zero screen time for children under two. This includes background TV. Between 2-4 years of age, it is recommended that children be limited to one hour a day. Less is better. 

Canadian guidelines for sedentary behaviour

Age

How much screen time should I allow?

0-2 years

Zero screen time

2-4 years

1 hour/day or less

5-17 years

2 hours/day or less

These recommendations were made after the overuse of technology was casually linked to developmental delays in young children. The chart shown above is a summary of the guidelines outlined in the Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour guidelines.

In this day and age, it is difficult to keep young children away from technology. Parents, family members and friends are constantly using their gadgets. As the recommendation is to limit screen time for children 2 and up, it is important to be mindful of how it is being used. 

As a busy parent, sometimes it is easier and more convenient to put on your child's favourite TV show while you are cooking or working. You may feel guilty, and put on educational TV shows, or open an app that allows your child to "draw" on the screen thinking they will learn something.

Think about a TV show or a drawing app from the point of view of your child.  What they are thinking and understanding is much different to what you as an adult would be thinking. When you watch TV, you take your past experiences and knowledge and combine that with the new information you are seeing to process and understand the information.  A young child watching a show about farm animals is not able to refer to past experiences to process the information if they have never seen a real farm animal. You need to provide the opportunities for your child to build their basic knowledge of the world through your interactions and real life experiences.

This is not to say that children can't learn anything from different forms of media. It does however mean that for media to be beneficial, the child must have adult support to fill in the gaps for them.

How can children 2-4 use technology in an appropriate way?

Technology can be a fantastic learning tool if it is used the right way. The best way for a child to experience digital media is to ensure there are lots of opportunities for adult-child interactions.

Here are some questions to ask when choosing to engage with your child using technology.

  • Is the show or game appropriate for my child's age and stage of development?
  • Is my child learning something, or are they just passing time?
  • Am I talking to my child about what they are watching or playing?
  • Can we play or watch together?
  • Is my child fully attending to the screen or is it background noise?
  • How is it affecting routines such as mealtime, naptime or bedtime?
  • Is my child interested, engaged and happy?
  • Does my child have enough time for active play or is my child spending more time sitting in one place?

The first three years are critical for a child's brain development. This is the time when repeated positive experiences and interactions with those around them create strong connections in the brain.

On occasion, reading an e-book or playing a game on a tablet together can be a nice change to the usual routine. However, reading a paper book or engaging in physically active play will allow the child to explore with all their senses and develop their physical, cognitive and emotional skills. 

Whether you choose to use technology or not, the best way to teach your child is to spend quality time with them.

Do you have more questions?

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