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Let’s talk about screen time for children

by on 08/09/2022 1991

In today’s world, an entire generation of children is growing up with screens, be it from smartphones, televisions, tablets or video games. Thus, the question that is often asked by parents with growing children will be “Does this exposure result in any negative or positive consequences towards my child?”

As much benefits as it could bring to the children, many studies have shown the negative effects of screen time on children’s development. A recent study, carried out by Paulich, Ross, Lessem and Hewitt (2021), found that more screen time is moderately associated with worse mental health, increased behavioural problems, decreased academic performance and poorer sleep.

Let’s talk about screen time for children

Sleep Issues

According to an article written by sleep education organisations, television is often a stimulant to small children where evening viewing may lead to increased alertness and prevent them from winding down for bedtime. In addition, a study published recently in a paediatric journal found that children between the ages of 3 and 5 had trouble sleeping if they had screen time after 7 p.m. Screen time includes television, video games or the computer. The amount of stimulating content in the programmes or games appears to be a contributing factor. This thus highlights the importance for parents to monitor the amount of television young children watch so they meet their sleep needs.

Another article did discuss the effects of blue lights from digital devices to the sleep of children. It was mentioned that the highly energised blue light has the desired effects of increasing wakefulness and decreasing melatonin (the hormone in charge of making us sleepy). Exposure to screen time before bed will lead to poor quality of sleep with less REM time, causing day time fatigue.

Let’s talk about screen time for children

Reduced Attention and Concentration

Concentration and attention are the building blocks for children to develop their cognitive skills. Sensory input from the outside is essential to support brain development. The brain requires the crucial and critical sensory input of vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive input for the brain to develop a foundation for all of the developmental milestones and higher-level skills needed in life (such as academic, language and social).

It is important for parents to understand how screen time affects the brain process. Visual processing is developed over the ages to process day to day activities and sensory information. Visual information from the screen exposure commonly includes accelerated changes. The constant changes result in speeding up the overall brain process and if it comes too fast, this will result in sensory overload and ultimately shutting down. However, if the brain does not shut down, it does have to work really fast to keep up.

The real problem will be encountered when the screen exposure is removed. The child’s brain still processes at a fast pace and will have difficulty adjusting to the normal speed of normal environments. This will then result in hyperactivity, poor concentration and abnormal behaviour to keep up with the pace of the brain process.

Let’s talk about screen time for children

It is however understandable from some perspective that introducing screen time for children may bring some benefits for the family. Here is the list of the pros of exposing screen time for the children:


1. Communication Outside Normal Routine

Screen time offers a way for children to communicate, bond and interact with friends and family outside of their home and/or daycare setting. This allows them to maintain relationship with family members that they may not see in person on a regular basis.

2. Learning Tools

Children can use devices with Apple and Android apps, as learning tools, allowing them to navigate through educational material and better understand how technology works. Children who engage in screen time, especially with handheld devices, smartphones, tablets or computers, may be more prepared to use the same tools when they’re introduced at school.

3. A Break for Parents

Screens can offer a break for parents too. A short screen time session could offer parents time to make dinner, finish some work, or just get some alone time. Sometimes it’s a much-needed pause button for daily life to allow both parent and child to slow down and recharge.

It’s important for parents to model good behaviours for screens and devices, to limit their use, and to prioritize their relationship with their children. Kids want to model what their parents are doing. If you are always looking at a screen, they will want to do just that. Make a point to limit your own screen time. You can set limits on your phone for certain apps.

Let’s talk about screen time for children

For parents who are concerned about their children’s screen time, the American Academy of Paediatrics updated their media guidelines a couple of years ago based on the recent research. Their suggestions include:

  • For children under 18 months old, no screen time
  • For children 18 to 24 months old, parents should choose only high-quality media and watch it with their children
  • For children 2 to 5 years old, less than one hour per day of high-quality programming is recommended, with parents watching along

This article was written by Sophia Sobana (Speech Language Pathologist) and Anis Arsyida Binti Abd Rashid (Occupational Therapist) from SI World. SI World is a professional therapy centre for children with special needs with centre locations in Klang Valley, Kedah, Perak and Sabah.