Screen Time and Young Children

phone, keyboard, headphones

Whether it's a tablet, laptop, smartphone, TV or desktop computer, our screens are how we socialize during the pandemic. They keep us connected to our friends and our family. They keep us connected to entertainment and education outlets. Between the pandemic and the summer wildfires, 2020 has brought about a huge rise of screen use for people of all ages as we spend more time at home.

We spoke with Maria Fusaro, director of the Early Childhood Institute at San Jose State University about the effects of screen time on young children. Watch the video below as we discuss the negative and positive effects of screen time, the different types of screen time and how to make changes to the amount of screen time that you and your children are viewing.

Takeaways from the Conversation

#1: Know the concerns of screen time

Excessive screen time has been linked to childhood obesity, and can have adverse affects on emotional regulation and language development. Last year, families faced unprecedented challenges with fewer options for social interactions and outside play. But, there's always time to change. With this new year upon us, we have many new opportunities to re-examine our use of screen time in our homes.

#2: Know about the different types of screen use

There is a difference between watching a cartoon and interacting with family members through Facetime, Skype or Zoom. When prioritizing the screen time you choose for your children, choose options that are interactive, or allow the child to engage with a real person on the other side of the screen. When watching shows, choose ones that are slower paced, providing opportunities to interact, allowing viewers to keep up with the content, and have lots of repetition of concepts to support actual learning. No matter what they are watching, talk to them about what they are watching, ask follow-up questions, and make connections between what they watch on TV and how it relates to their everyday world at home.

#3: Know when it's time to change

Every day is a new opportunity take a step back and re-evaluate our goals with screens. We can start by thinking about the small changes we can make to support healthy habits with screen use.

  • Screen Time Audit: First, you can start with a screen time audit in your home. Make a note of when screens are on, how long they stay on, and what your children are watching and when. Sometimes we have screens on more often, or even less often than we think we do.
  • Balance Experiences: Second, think about the balance of experiences for your child. When they are watching screens and what are they doing less of as a result (ie playing outside or playing with others)? Who might be available for your child to safely interact with for playdates, and what are some other experiences you can create for the child? These questions come into play more as the weather allows us to get outdoors more often.

#4: Know how to build new healthy habits

You can make a difference by making small, yet significant, changes in your daily routine. These small changes add to big rewards as you and your family try to reclaim your space with screen-free activities in your home. Don't think of it as taking something away, but rather, adding in more diverse experiences and activities into the day. Designate certain times of the day as "Screen-Free Zones" for all members of the family. This can be during mealtimes, or any other time that works in your daily routine. These screen-free zones are ways to slowly cut back on the amount of screen time in your home without making a major impact on your day or requiring too much stress to implement.

Lastly, you are your child’s first teacher and role model—what are your screen habits, and how can you make changes to your screen habits to teach your child screen-time and real-life balance?

Your Turn

What has been your experiences? What has worked for you? If you have any ideas or tips that have worked for you balancing screen use in the home, please share in the comments.