Jul 12, 2021

The Impact of Increased Screen Time on Children

Child colouring on tablet at nursery

During this day and age, and especially over the last year, we find ourselves extremely grateful for advanced technologies that allow us to stay connected to family and friends and continue to have ‘virtual’ relationships. This blog delves into the reality of rising screen time and its implications for the newer generation.

Balancing Technology and Development

In today’s digital age, a surge in technology usage has raised concerns among parents, leading to heightened screen time for children. Paired with endless entertainment options and the challenges of balancing work from home and childcare during the pandemic, reliance on TV, movies, and other technologies is natural.  But what really is the reality of this increase in screen time?

Understanding Screen Exposure’s Impact on Development

In an ever-growing technological world, parents recognise the importance of technology for learning and opportunity. While it’s believed to enhance academic and future employment success, concerns about its impact on children’s physical development also arise. As we impose limitations on technology usage, conflicts may arise over device removal, sparking an internal debate about what’s best for our children.

Impacts of screen exposure on brain development are still relatively unresearched and is limited when correlating information on length of time of exposure on the developing brain. What we do know, however, is that babies do not absorb TV content, although it may catch and hold their attention. By the age of 22-24 months, children can understand the content, but may not identify the 2D learning with that of real 3D objects, for example, the difference of the screen versus real life. This is in stark contrast to the intensity of learning through face-face interactions, learning here increases rapidly. In contrast, TV/screen time from 2 years old that is of high quality, i.e. specifically designed for children and is age appropriate, can have benefits that work towards early childhood developmental goals, with research suggesting this can support early language and literacy skills. Furthermore, there is evidence that interactive ‘learn-to-read’ apps and e-books can build early literacy skills by providing practice with letters, phonics and word recognition.

It is important, however, to consider that screens may help with language learning when they are used collaboratively with a parent or carer. Children 3 years and above learn best when considering skills needed for expressive vocabulary terms from in the moment, live, meaningful interactions.

Striking the Balance: Tips for Nurturing Healthy Screen Habits

Remember, interaction and talking through actual play is essential in early childhood development and can never be replaced purely by technology. These top tips from the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) may help you to consider when trying to strike a balance.

  • Think about your own technology use. Simple phrases such as “Stop, Drop and Talk” and “There is no app to replace your lap” can help remind you that technology can restrict interactions.
  • Take lots of photographs. People, places and things children have done and seen. Use these to prompt conversations and for reflection opportunities.
  • Record songs and stories and listen back to them together. Most tablets and smartphones have voice recorders and video cameras which make this easy. Children love listening back to recordings of their own voice.
  • Share photos with parents and carers. Children don’t need to be in the images, just things they’ve seen and done. It really helps promote regular discussions at home prompted by the question “What did you do today?”

As with all things, it’s about balance and quality. Various research projects conclude that technology should augment teaching (in the traditional sense) and should not replace. We think there is a place for technology in our nurseries, but always alongside traditional activities and there will never be a substitute in early years for a real person.

Related pages/links:

OECD – What do we know about children and technology? 

National Literacy Trust – Children, young people and digital reading

Related blogs:

The Impact of Mental Health Week

Super STEAM| Benefits for Young Children

Blog written by: Steph Dorling (Manager at The Old Station Nursery Faringdon)

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