Around the world, children’s screen time has increased exponentially. Babies, toddlers, and children of all ages today have access to many digital devices, including televisions, computers, phones, and tablets, among others.
Babies are curious and always mimic what their parents and peers are doing around them. This further explains why a nine-month-old would pad to the front of the television screen and move to the actions displayed.
Undoubtedly, the positive effects of these technological devices have contributed to seamless communication and connection between individuals, groups and communities, improved teaching and learning methods, and social bonding.
But it poses more long-term harm to children who are constantly exposed to it.
Screen time refers to the activities performed in front of a screen, such as B. Playing video games, watching TV, scrolling through a phone, and working on a computer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages children under the age of two from sitting in front of screens. It also limited screen exposure in older children to an hour or two a day.
The guidelines, issued by the World Health Organization in 2019, also state that “children under the age of five spend less time sitting in front of screens or strapped into strollers and seats, sleep better and have more time for active play”.
The WHO described early childhood as a period of rapid development, therefore improving physical activity, reducing sedentary and screen time and ensuring a good night’s sleep in young children would improve their physical and mental health and well-being.
It added that this would help prevent childhood obesity and other related diseases later in the future.
For children under the age of two, WHO stated that screen time related to television or videos and playing computer games is not recommended. It also recommended less screen time of no more than an hour for children between the ages of two and older.
Studies have reported that parental exhaustion; Insufficient opportunities to provide children with alternative entertainment and the need to get things done at work or at home have been reasons for the widespread use of screens.
Research has also shown that babies exposed to screens between the ages of two and three perform poorly on screening tests for behavioral, cognitive and social development by age three.
Studies also show that older children who exceed screen time recommendations record low cognitive ratings and little sleep, resulting in the manifestation of increased impulsivity.
To ensure children lead healthy lives, it is important for parents, carers, and childcare workers to set screen times for children in their care.
“No Paw Patrol, no tablet, no TV until Friday,” was the weekly talk introduced to her children by a mother-of-two and makeup artist, Ms. Omotayo Omotunde.
Omotunde said this is the creative way she chose to get her kids to understand and comply with limited days and screen time periods.
During the allotted screen time, she said she made sure there were regular breaks to focus on other daily tasks.
She said: “I have two children, ages three and five. Every week we recite our screen time slogan. And it’s easy, I have to say, ‘No paw patrol, no tablet, no TV until Friday.’”
Interestingly, Omotunde found that this strategy proved effective, with the children reminding each other of the set rules whenever one of them wanted to ask at the ‘odd hour’.
She added: “Friday through Saturday is her screen time. You will eat, watch, sleep and wake up again. I put about three hour intervals between these activities.
“You may be interested to know that they remind each other of their father’s directive that says there are no Power Rangers until Friday. So they request their screen time when they return from school on Fridays.”
Another parent and a public health nurse, Ms Ifedayo Edu, said her children were allowed two hours of screen time over the weekend.
The naturopath added that she made sure the content on the televisions and laptops in use at the time was educational and children’s programs, as well as cartoons.
Edu said: “When I have something to do or when I see my kids need to catch up on their kids’ shows, I allow them to have screen time, but for a limited number of hours. They have more screen time during the holidays, but I also monitor them.”
But the tantrums that ensued after allotted screen time was up was a situation Edu constantly dealt with.
She added: “What I’ve discovered is that every time the TV channel changes or the laptop shuts down after screen time is up, there’s this look of anger on my daughters’ faces and questions as to why she’s no longer with me the screen time.”
Edu further explained that as a football enthusiast, she would involve her children in sporting activities and games when screen time was over.
To further cut back on screen time, Edu explained that she made sure her kids played with her toys.
Excessive screen time in children led to increases in near or short-sightedness, dry eyes and obesity in children, among other things, according to some eye experts.
The President of the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria and the Medical Director of the Eye Doctors Group of Clinics, Dr. Abiola Oyeleye, for his part, stressed that children between the ages of zero and two should not be exposed to screen time, while children between the ages of two and four should have an hour of screen time.
This is due to the fact that a child’s brain developed in the early formative years through stimuli from the environment.
Oyeleye explained, “You can’t understand people’s feelings by looking at the screen. This is obtained while interacting with people. A child needs impulses from outside to learn to deal with people and to process them. Screen time erases emotional, social, and nonverbal skills. If screen time is required, it should be quality screen time and not just cartoons.”
The ophthalmologist added that the sedentary and always indoor lifestyle of children has contributed to the increase in myopia worldwide.
He said: “Studies have shown that people who cannot spend time outdoors are at risk of becoming myopic. As a child, playing and running around outdoors, the sunlight helps you develop, but if a child is always on the screen, such a child is likely to become short-sighted. Not just because the child is constantly staring at the screen, but because the child is being deprived of all the good outdoors. Screen time is not recommended for infants and babies.”
Oyeleye advised parents and carers to ensure the brightness of devices should be appropriate with room lighting.
He added: “First, parents should know the content of what their children are watching so they don’t see what is inappropriate for their age. Also, make sure the device is in the right position when your kids are having screen time so the kid doesn’t end up in a wrong pose. Staring at the screen for too long will dry your eyes, as the human eye is designed to blink between 10 and 15 times a minute. So it’s important to have a time-out from the screen after a few minutes.”
In addition, Dr. Prisca Onianwa, a clinical optometrist at Vedic Lifecare Hospital in Lagos State, said outdoor activities for children are recommended over screen time.
Onianwa also agreed with Oyeleye, saying, “Being outdoors strengthens your visual sense and reduces the risk of developing myopia, especially for those who are at risk of developing myopia due to hereditary traits.”
She found that children who spent too much time in front of the screen were at an increased risk of myopia, eye dryness and eye fatigue, accompanied by headaches, blurred vision and malaise.
Onianwa explained, “In certain cases where they (kids) spend too much time on the computer, they can experience headaches during screen time and long after they’ve left the screen. They sometimes wake up and go to bed with a headache because they spend most of their time in front of the screen.
“Also, there is a lack of sleep. It’s a well-known fact that spending too much time in front of your screen alters your body’s circadian rhythm (the natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle); this leads to less sleep and affects their ability to perform at school.”
The ophthalmologist warned parents not to make sure their children aren’t eating during screen time, stating that it leads to obesity.
She advised parents to stick to the recommended screen time age for children, encourage children to engage in outdoor activities to develop physical activity and social skills; and monitor the time and activities during screen time.
“The TV should be placed 10 feet away from the child’s position. If they must use a computer, it should be set below their eye level, which means they are looking down at the computer and their eyes are not fully open. It also helps eliminate glare; That means they don’t use their devices in a place where the light or lamp in the room is directly overhead.
“Turn the computer brightness down, but it shouldn’t be lower than the brightness of the room. This applies to the placement of the air conditioner in the room; it should not be positioned directly on the body. Also, take your kids for a proper and thorough eye exam to make sure they don’t have an underlying refractive error and that screen time hasn’t affected their eyes,” Onianwa said.
Also, a technology policy analyst, Moses Faya, explained that parents can limit children’s screen time by enabling digital wellbeing settings and parental controls on devices to preferred times.
He added: “Create designated areas in your home with a screen-free zone. This can be in places like the bedroom and dining table. Limiting children’s screen time should be intentional.”
Faya advised parents to “involve children in activities that take their minds off screen time. Children between the ages of zero and three or four should not be involved in screen time. Kids with a lot of screen time tend to have an altered reality of the real world. You feel that whatever is happening on screen is the reality of life. This also prevents them from having a proper interpersonal relationship with people.”