Does your toddler use a smartphone? It might sound like a silly question, but even the strictest parents have been known to put a phone or tablet in front of their child while out in public to keep them calm. While a little bit of screen time might seem harmless, a new survey shows that it could be having a negative impact on their sleep.
Sleep is a vital part of development for young children. It can determine their adjustment socially and emotionally, and it also influences their academic achievement later in life. Inadequate sleep has also been linked to problems like obesity and behavioral issues, which is why parents should do everything they can to ensure their child gets the proper amount of sleep for their age.
It is estimated that children lose 16 minutes of sleep for every hour they spend using a touchscreen. Experts believe this happens because the children are becoming overly stimulated by using the device. With young children using these devices for an average of 25 minutes per day, they are losing around six minutes of sleep every day, which adds up to 42 minutes over the course of a week. If your child spends an hour using such devices each day, he or she could be losing nearly two hours of sleep a week!
A recent survey carried out in the UK found that three-fourths of toddlers between six months and three years of age use a touchscreen daily. Slightly more than half of those aged six to 11 months use a device daily, but this figure rises to 92 percent among those between the ages of 25 and 36 months.
The problems caused by touchscreen device use are not only limited to toddlerhood. Another study shows that kids who use digital devices for two to four hours per day have a 23 percent lower chance of finishing their school work. Children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend a total of 44.5 hours per week on average using screens, including smartphones, tablets, TVs and computers. Just imagine all they could be accomplishing in that time!
The use of smartphones and other digital devices is also causing an epidemic of nearsightedness, or myopia, in children. The numbers of children with this condition have skyrocketed with the introduction of electronic gadgets into our lives. Just a quarter of those aged 12 to 54 were nearsighted in the early 1970s; that figure had grown to more than 41 percent by the 2000s. Ophthalmologists report seeing severe myopia in kids as young as 4. There are also concerns that the Wi-Fi in these devices could cause health problems such as infertility.
The American Association of Pediatrics recently issued new recommendations that children under the age of 18 months avoid screen time altogether, only allowing exceptions for video calls with grandparents and similar familial interactions. They say that digital media can be introduced between 18 and 24 months, but it should be limited to high-quality programming that is watched with their parents.
Between the ages of 2 and 5, they suggest limiting kids’ use to one hour of quality programming, again with parents. They add that children should not sleep with their devices, nor should they use them in the hour leading up to bedtime.
Even if you feel there is some value to allowing your child to play with a touchscreen device, balance is essential. In addition to following the AAP’s guidelines, it’s important to be consistent about reinforcement. Children also need to get plenty of sleep and exercise, and they should try to spend time outdoors each day.