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How much screen time?

Mini Minds

How much screen time?

Alison Shires

We live in a fast-changing world and screen gadgets are a huge and ever increasing part of it. Just take a moment to think how many different screen gadgets are part of our daily routines. Phones, watches, iPads, televisions, monitors, games, the list goes on. Research tells us that screen time should be discouraged before the age of two and only a maximum of 30 minutes a day allowed for 3-5 year olds. Not long, when you add up a few minutes television whilst getting ready in the morning, letting them watch something on your phone in the car, FaceTiming granny to tell her about their day and sharing a few photos or videos on the iPad with them. Psychologists are becoming increasingly concerned about children over-using screen gadgets.

As parents, we need to question how much time we use our screens ourselves. Think about the number of times you 'just check' your phone. The average is 9 times per hour and 110 times in a day, with peak use between 5pm and 8pm. We don't like to be more than 2 metres away from our phones, physically. 

So what's wrong with using screen gadgets? 

A child needs a variety of stimuli whilst they are growing and developing and nothing can replace the physical one-to-one time of interaction with your child. Talking and finding out about their day, mimicking their first sounds when they are learning to talk, or reading a story.

If your child is not getting enough access to social interactions, the development of their ability to deal with social situations and read clues from them can be dulled, possibly for good.

The brain's frontal lobe decodes and comprehends social interactions, it helps us empathise, take in non-verbal clues, read facial expression, tone of voice and it helps us to understand relationships and their part in the world around us. During the brain's 'critical period' of development (thought to be birth to age 3) if your child is not getting enough access to social interactions, the development of their ability to deal with social situations and read clues from them can be dulled, possibly for good. Psychologists are concerned that children overusing screen gadgets become used to the instant gratification it gives the brain. The child's developing brain readily accepts the feelings of instant pleasure (dopamine). A pattern is learnt by the brain and mimicked, the child develops a habit. 

Excessive screen time has been linked to childhood obesity. Recent research tells us that children who have limited screen time, consume fewer calories and are more mobile than children who do not have limited time. 

Difficult bedtime routines? 

We know that sleep is triggered by the hormone Melatonin which is linked to natural light dimming at the end of the day, telling the body to start the process of going to sleep. Bright lights that screens give off halt the natural process and inhibit sleep. Even a brief exposure of two minutes can delay the sleep process for two hours. Fragmented sleep, or too little sleep, makes us produce more of the hormone Gherlin, the hungry hormone and less of the energy hormone Leptin. This leads directly to weight gain. Poor sleep will impact on growth, immunity, blood pressure, memory, attention, ability to work something out and insulin levels. We know when we have been asleep for more than 5 hours the brain and body have a chance to rest and restore themselves. The active neurons rest and the supporting glial cells start the 'cleaning up process' to remove the toxins that have developed over the day.    

So what can we do? 

Recommendations are:

  • have screen-free time
  • encourage your child to turn the gadget off and play
  • have screen rules: how long they can use them for and when is the latest they can use them
  • preview the games and apps
  • supervise your child
  • discuss what they are watching
  • eliminate background television noise
  • use parental controls
  • develop relaxing bedtime routines: calming bath and then a bedtime story  
  • make bedrooms screen free zones
  • have family screen time, watch television together and have no other screens on
  • remember the old saying, "everything in moderation" !