For young children, extended screen time can have a negative, lasting impact. The timespan between birth and age 3 is dubbed “the critical period” in the medical community due to the changes happening in the brain. Too much screen time during this age range can leave their still-developing brains permanently damaged.
How Screen Time Affects Young Children’s Brains
Children between birth and age 3 are developing the “permanent foundation upon which all later brain function is built.” The brain at this age range grows quickly and is incredibly sensitive to the surrounding environment and needs specific stimuli to develop normally. If young children spend too much time in front of screens while not getting enough “real-life” stimuli, development can become stunted.
Think back to the days when you were read a story as a child. You’d have to rely on your own imagination to picture the princess in the castle or the dragon flying in the air. You would have to make a mental effort in order to follow along with the story. With tablets, children don’t need to imagine anything; not when the video is playing before their eyes. Devices think for them, making their young brains skip these crucial growing moments. It’s unfortunate because what makes digital devices so great is not what young brains need.
Making Friends Can Turn Out to Be Difficult
Social interactions, empathy, and being able to discern non-verbal social cues are all thanks to the brain’s frontal lobe. Seeing your coworker make a face after the boss walks away gives you a good indication of how this fellow employee feels toward your superior (hint – negatively). Tone of voice, physical gestures, and so many other silent communications give everyday life its color; children need to see this to learn them.
The frontal lobe develops at the “critical period,” meaning from birth to age 3. If your young children are in front of an iPad instead of talking with you or other children, their empathetic abilities could be stunted indefinitely.
Screen time can also become addictive for young children. In a touch screen world where instant gratification and response is granted, a child can become confused about why things in the real world don’t follow suit.
The Good News
Digital devices are not the devil. They are, when used properly, great learning tools for young children. Coordination, quick reactions, and language skills are all sharpened with touchscreen devices. Regulating and enforcing screen time for young children is vital for their current and future health.