Children’s screen time, social media and cyberbullying

Digital media exposure for children of all ages should be limited, according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Today, in a world surrounded by digital media 24/7, defining screen time is difficult.

Experts identify screen time as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes. Other uses of media, such as online homework, don’t count as screen time.

For children 2 to 5 years of age, screen time should be limited to one hour per day.

For kids ages 6 and older, parents can determine the restrictions for time spent using screen, as well as monitor the types of digital media their children use.

Babies are most vulnerable to screens. Infants aged 18 months and younger should not be exposed to any digital media, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

Infants 18 months and younger: No screen time

For parents with infants, cutting off technology completely can be challenging. But banning screen time for babies is hugely important for brain development and healthy parent-child connections, Pediatricians say.

The noise and activity of a screen are distracting for a child. Even if the baby isn’t directly looking at the screen — for example, if a mother is nursing her child on the couch while watching TV — the baby can be overstimulated by the lights and sounds, which may cause distress and sleep problems.

Perhaps most negatively, screen time causes a disconnect between parents and children.

Breast-feeding is an emotional bonding time between mother and child.

The more face-to-face interaction children have with mothers and other adults, especially eye contact, the better for the brain development of infants.

If parents’ attention is fixed on a TV or phone screen, babies are deprived of that attention; and if they are repeatedly neglected in favour of digital media, children may develop behavioural issues in the future.

The TV should not be a babysitter. It’s much better to talk to a child or read from a book.

Children 2 to 5 years: One hour per day

It is recommended that parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers.

Children this age can be introduced to screens, but only for one hour a day. The type of media they are exposed to is critical: only high-quality programs, such as “Sesame Street” and other PBS shows should be viewed.

Shows like ‘Sesame Street’ are much better than standard TV, because they don’t have advertisements, which tend to over-stimulate children.

Toddler-aged kids haven’t developed the cognitive skills to understand advertisements or animations. Children at this age “can’t interpret images like an older kid,” meaning they can’t decipher between real-world people and fictional cartoons.

While cartoons get a thumbs-down, the academy supports toddlers using face-to-face interactive media, such as Skype or Facetime. Including children in Skype video conversations with grandma, for example, can promote healthy development in kids.

After the conversation ends, parents can supplement children’s learning by repeating what grandma said on the screen.