The issue of screen time for toddlers has been a hot topic for more than a few years. But it’s no longer just about the ‘tv babysitter.’ Parents now have to grapple with questions around iPads, smart phones, video games, and even virtual reality. It can be difficult to know where to start.
Even so, technology is here to stay, and it’s an issue that parents do need to face. This post is a guilt free look at the main questions around screen times for toddlers.
There is a HUGE amount of research on the topic of parenting and technology, but it isn’t always consistent. Lots of different viewpoints are expressed and advocated for.
But while we can be guided by research, as the parents it’s your decision. Raising children is tough. But like most things in parenting, I believe that setting limits around technology for your toddler will work best when it’s done intentionally.
With that in mind, I’ll give you an overview of the main issues, including the points to consider and the questions to ask. I believe that parents need to understand the risks and set limits around technology, but there is no one size fits all solution for what these limits should be.
WHAT ARE THE GUIDELINES FROM THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have produced guidelines around screen time for toddlers. They say that their recommendations are evidence-based, although the strength of the studies used has been called into question by other groups.
The WHO advise that:
- Children under the age of 2 years old not spend any time passively watching screens.
- Children between the ages of 2 and 5 spend no more than 1 hour of sedentary screen time in 24 hours, though “less is better.”
They also advise that screen time should be replaced with other activities, allowing more time for interaction, physical activity and sleep.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
But isn’t technology a harmless activity that toddlers can enjoy?
As a Speech and Language Therapist, I have worked with a lot of families whose children had speech or language delays. Many of the parents saw technology as a ‘main hobby’ of their toddler. Lots of these young children spent hours a day on devices.
For me, the main question is this: what activity does screen time for your toddler replace?
DOES SCREEN TIME REPLACE INTERACTIONS?
Every single interaction you have with your toddler is building their language. It’s like a piggy bank- every deposit you make adds to their understanding, vocabulary, grammar, speech, and even social skills (how to have a conversation).
Over time, these deposits have a big impact, and make a massive difference to the foundations for your child when entering school. A strong foundation of language will give a boost towards success in school, both socially and academically.
DOES SCREEN TIME REPLACE PLAY?
Play is absolutely crucial for children’s development. It’s a place to imagine, talk, problem-solve, and interact. Play allows kids to develop and fine-tune vital social skills that will be needed for school and life.
A lot is happening when kids play and the risk is that screen time might replace time that would have otherwise been spent at play. The more your child can engage in play, the better for their development.
Play also gives an opportunity for physical activity. Check out guidelines for the physical activity level for toddlers. It’s important to ensure that screen time for toddlers does not prevent them from getting the level of physical activity that they need.
When thinking about how much screen time to allow for toddlers, consider whether your child will be missing out on important opportunities to play.
DOES SCREEN TIME INTERFERE WITH SLEEP?
Screen time has been shown to decrease sleep for everyone, and toddlers are no exception! The blue light suppresses the release of a chemical called melatonin which is a sleep-inducing hormone.
Experts recommend no screen-time for at least an hour before bed so as not to interfere with a good night’s rest.
Check out my tips for establishing a bedtime routine so your toddler gets the sleep they need and you get the child-free time and rest that you need.
BE AWARE OF THE RISKS ONLINE
When you hand a child a smartphone or an iPad, you are giving them the whole internet into their hands. This is without a doubt one of the biggest challenges of parenting and technology and it happens from a surprisingly young age!
Just a few clicks can take your child to content which is completely inappropriate or even potentially damaging for them.
Remember that your child is incredibly vulnerable in lots of ways. It’s a parent’s job to both protect them and equip them.
The challenge is to demonstrate incredible parenting with technology, as much as with any other area of childhood and life.
When you give access to a screen, make sure that it is as supervised as any other area of life, and that you choose great, high-quality content.
TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OF SCREEN TIME
Planning whether and when your toddler should have access to screen time is only one half of the picture. You will also need to consider how their screen time should be– what will they access and how will they engage with it?
Here are some tips for making the most of screen time:
- Try to watch high-quality programs with your toddler. There are also lots of fun and educational apps that your toddler might enjoy.
- Check it out: 40+ Best Free Apps for Toddlers to Have Fun and Learn
- For screen time to be the most beneficial for your toddler, considering viewing media alongside them. If they are watching a program or playing an app, you can turn it into a conversation. This way, you are feeding in language, providing an opportunity to interact, and you can also help them to understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- Technology and iPads are amazing, but they are highly addictive for toddlers! Technology stimulates parts of the brain and releases dopamine so kids can actually feel addicted. With this in mind, taking an iPad off a toddler can be a nightmare, so plan exactly how this will happen. You could try setting a timer (you can get a visual timer for your phone with red that gradually disappears). Also remember to give a 5 minute warning so it’s not unexpected when the time is up.
- Have something motivating lined up for afterwards. This could be going outside to play or going to the park or even lunchtime if that’s something your child enjoys.
- Plan the iPad into your daily routine. Maybe your toddler gets it for 15 minutes before lunch. They have their time, and then you put it away because it’s lunchtime (or whatever you decide). You can be calm and matter of fact about taking it off them, ‘the iPad need to go away because we’re going to the park/ having lunch now.’ By making it predictable and part of your routine, you could save yourself a lot of drama and tears!
- When they ask for it, don’t say ‘no’ directly, tell them ‘yes’ and say when they’re next allowed it. ‘Yes, you can have the iPad again tomorrow.‘ This helps to reassure your toddler because they’re not hearing the word ‘no’ and instead you’re letting them know that they will be able to have the iPad again at some point- it isn’t gone forever.
- Consider access to the iPad– it can be time consuming to have to always unlock it, but it might be worth it. If your toddler knows the PIN, it’s likely that they will try to get it at different times. They might even risk climbing up somewhere unsafe to try and access it. If they don’t know the PIN and rely on you, they will learn very quickly that they need to go through you to get it! When your child is young, I really believe that this level of control is needed.
AND THAT’S IT!
This information is not meant to scare you or make you feel guilty, but to help you to be aware of the potential issues around screen time for toddlers.
For me, the main goal is to treat technology in the same way as you would other aspects of parenting. When your child is young, they will need lots of guidance and scaffolding to protect them and keep them safe. It’s important to teach them to make good choices from an early age.
Technology will become a bigger and bigger part of their life, and so you can coach them from the beginning to handle it well. This will be much more effective than completely shielding them from all technology.
As your child gets older, your parenting around technology will change and develop as your child becomes more responsible. However, at any age it is essential to be aware of the risks and have a plan in place.
Choosing activities for your toddler is always a balance and there are no hard and fast rules. A good principle is to ask- what will screen time replace, and what will benefit my child the most?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences- which strategies worked for to in managing screen time for toddlers? Which strategies here are you most excited to try? Comment below and let me know!
You might also enjoy:
- How Play Promotes Child Development: An Ultimate Guide for Parents
- 15 Easy Speech Delay Exercises for Your Toddler to Boost Language Fast!
- 5 Powerful Ways to Improve Your Child’s Vocabulary
- 9 Smart Strategies for Dealing With Tantrums in Toddlers
- 5 Little Known Tips to Teach Your Toddler to Read
- The Ultimate Guide to Help Your Child Speak Clearly
- 5 Surprising Skills to Build Before You Teach Your Toddler the Alphabet
- Parenting and Technology: When is it Safe For Your Child to Get a Cellphone?
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