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Is TV and Screen Time a Problem for Children and Toddlers? And How to Break a Screen Addiction.

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

There are mixed views and opinions on how the use of screens and TV affect children’s behaviour and development. Some reports in the press say that children who use tablets and smart phones have more advanced fine motor skills due to the swiping action. I am sure this is true, but at what cost to their emotional well-being?

I have observed numerous children’s behaviour on a formal and informal basis over the years, and there is one thing that I have seen more than anything, and that is how screen time affects a child’s emotions and behaviour on a number of levels.

The first is that the things they enjoy watching are, on some level, addictive. That is why they go back to watching the same thing repeatedly. For some shows, this is fine as the content is gentle and could be considered educational. Other shows may appear to be educational but are actually pushing a brand on a child that leads to them not only wanting to watch the show, but also wanting the associated products on sale in the shops and online. Other shows, particularly those found on YouTube may appear educational but are in fact a stream of bright colours and squeaky sounds, injected with regular doses of adverts.

The second issue with the addictive side of screen time is that it pulls children’s interests away from other activities. For a lot of children, it is easier to become sedentary and watch TV or YouTube rather than using their imaginations and playing with their toys or playing outside. Add to this the tantrums you may encounter when you try to switch the TV or iPad off, and the lethargy that follows, and it makes me ask the question, is screen time shutting down our children’s imagination? Is it causing that part of the brain to stop working?

The third issue is that parents use screens to occupy their children while they “get things done” but in doing this, we are taking our time and attention away from your children. Because children are usually very content watching TV, it may feel as though this is okay, but the reality is that children benefit far more from our time and attention than they do from TV.

The fourth issue is how the addiction can affect other parts of a child’s life. I have had friends and clients whose children have woken early demanding TV or the iPad, and have experienced this myself this weekend with my own toddler. Having broken his leg 10 days ago and then had a vomiting bug 3 days ago, he has watched far more TV and YouTube than ever before, and I have seen a horrible change in his behaviour and moods. He woke this morning an hour earlier than usual demanding that we go downstairs and watch TV, having been miserable all evening once the TV was turned off. I could put the grumpiness last night down to him still being under the weather, but his behaviour this morning makes me think not.

Thankfully I know that this behaviour can be reversed within a couple of days with a simple Screen Detox plan. It fills most parents (including my husband who spends a lot of time with our toddler) with dread, but it isn’t as bad as you think it will be. However, it does require us parents to be parents and give our little people a bit more of our time and attention, and we may need to use our imaginations to get things going.

Screen Detox Plan

  1. No TV or screen time for 3-7 days (one amazing family did it for 3 weeks!)

  2. Limit screen time to 20 minutes once or twice a day

  3. The only exception is during periods of illness or exceptional circumstances like journeys over 1.5 hours and possibly weddings

  4. Use your imagination and find other things for your children to do. Under 8’s are usually happy with a selection of stickers, books, colouring, small toys, Play Doh, music, puzzles etc even when you’re out at a restaurant!

  5. Be aware of your child’s limits for attention. Don’t expect them to sit through a lengthy meal or hours of you chatting over coffee with your friends.

It’s not difficult to do and most children will get over the addiction (constant moaning and whinging to watch TV or use the iPad/tablet) within 48 hours. You will quickly see an improvement in their mood and yours as they stop moaning!

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