Our children are growing up in a technological world. Everywhere we look there are screens – television, computers, video games, tablets, smart phones. Most technology related businesses spend a great deal of time marketing educational activities to parents. They claim that your children can learn a great deal from spending time in front of screens with educational programming, games and software. They do not, however, inform you that research is increasingly proving that screen time is detrimental to early childhood development and growth.
Just as preschools try to lure people with technology, the State of New Jersey has proposed regulations for early childhood centers significantly limiting screen time – and well they should. As far back as 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published recommendations regarding screen time. The Academy recommends no screen time for infants and toddlers. They recommend that preschool age children and older should have a maximum of two hours of total screen time per day. That total includes school and home use of televisions, computers and other video equipment.
Most people realize that sedentary activities like sitting in front of a television or computer are contributing factors in the fight against childhood obesity. The use of that technology also limits cognitive growth and language development. A study from 2007 showed that the more television a baby watches, the fewer words he/she actually learns. Parroting words seen on television or video is not the same as learning words that have meaning to them. Early childhood experts agree that babies learn to speak with purpose from interacting with people and not from television shows or video games. Marketing videos as educational was legally challenged in 2009 when, under threat from a class action law suit, Disney began offering refunds for Baby Einstein videos.
As children enter the preschool years, socialization and building knowledge become priorities. Sitting preschool students in front of computer or other screens limits the amount of time they interact with peers.
Young children cannot learn about sharing, for example, from songs and skits. They need to experience taking turns and using items together. They need to discover what it feels like to wait, be kind or receive kindness.
Screen time also limits the human interaction that teaches them essential skills such as non-verbal communication. Cartoon characters and puppets cannot teach children about the importance of eye contact or the expression on someone’s face when they are happy, angry or afraid. Studies show that the inability to interpret and use appropriate non-verbal clues impacts social success in both children and adults.
Fine and gross motor skills are not developed properly by the use of technology. Children cannot develop a strong pincer grip by pushing buttons or tracing with one finger on a screen. Those muscles are developed best by holding writing implements and working with up and down strokes while painting or drawing on an easel. The use of handheld video games also does not encourage children to make gross motor motions that cross the midline of their bodies. When children cross the midline with large movements that cross limbs to the other side of their bodies, both hemispheres of the brain are accessed and developed.
Preschools can limit screen time. In New Jersey, they will be required to by law, but what is a parent to do? Your homes are bombarded with this technology. There are a few things you can do to turn passive activities into active ones. When your children are watching television, watch with them. Talk about and ask questions about what you are watching. If using video games, use those that encourage physical rather than sedentary activities. Use car rides to develop listening skills by using books on tape rather than DVDs. Always keep in mind that nothing can help your child grow and develop better than hands-on, interactive, independent play in nature and with people.
For information about The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom or Temple Shalom Religious School, contact Cindy Terebush at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 732-566-2961.