While iPhones, TV and video games are great for distracting children in a pinch, increasing evidence shows that too much screen time can potentially cause childhood depression and increase the risk for attention problems later on.
Children as young as 7 are receiving their own cell phones and many 2-year-olds can already work a smartphone — sometimes better than their parents! “My 2-year-old can power up my phone, find his apps, adjust the volume appropriately and power off my phone when he’s done,” says Sylvia Dune, mom of three.
Society has become accustomed to technology telling others our every move and entertaining both adults and children through text messages, constant emails, online games, videos, tweets and status updates. But is this sign of the times harmful to children? The American Academy of Pediatrics says yes. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics links the side effects of screen time to depression and attention problems in children.
Children and technology
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends children spend a maximum of two hours in front of a screen, per day. But a study published in Science Daily says preschool-aged children spend up to four hours a day in front of a TV or computer. According to the study, these numbers have the potential to increase the risk for clinical depression in children as young as 3 and cause attention problems later on.
Replace screen time with block play
Many toy companies are integrating back-to-basic play in their product designs. Tegu, which makes eco-friendly magnetic wooden blocks, set up test labs in kindergarten and Montessori classrooms across the country to observe how children play. “We observe greater interest and attention span when children play with magnetic blocks compared to traditional blocks,” says Tegu product developer Alex Ko. “The embedded magnets enable children to build taller, more advanced structures, while their polarity demands critical thinking and problem-solving. Children achieve mastery more quickly, reinforcing the behavior.”
Many experts believe that the fix is to simply encourage and engage in back-to-basic play with your child. Swap out the Blackberry for balls and blocks and encourage kids to engage in multi-sensory skills that are impossible to gain from two-dimensional apps.
“Physical, block play develops eye-hand coordination and large and fine motor skills, as well as an appreciation and understanding for design and balance,” says Vivian Kirkfield, educator and author of Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. “Block play involves the child as a whole because it is a movement-oriented, sensory-friendly and intellectually active creative learning tool that helps children develop vocabulary, math and science skills.”
It’s never too late to make a change
Children learn a lot from their parent’s actions — it’s never too late to change your ways and lead by example. “We have a strict rule about our phones,“ says Jessica Welch, a mom of two boys. “We have set up “phone-free” hours in our house. That way our kids see us without phones and mobile devices and we are reminded to spend more quality time with our boys without unnecessary distractions.”