As parents, one of the biggest challenges we face with our children is the issue of screen time and technology, especially when it comes to touch screen devices. The views and practices among parents vary, however one universal truth is that touch screen technology is here to stay, so the best thing we could do as parents is educate ourselves on the optimal way of integrating it into our family life.
We reached out to Veronica Montanaro, Speech and Language Pathologist. Veronica is a Communication Therapy graduate from the University of Malta and she was awarded an M.Sc in Language and Communication Impairments in Children with the University of Sheffield in 2014. Her research study, Young Children and iPads: A Developmental Perspective, focused on the way young children use touch screen technology.
Can you give us an idea of recent statistics related to children and screen time?
“Common Sense Media reported that three out of four children between the ages of birth and 8 years use some form of screen media for an average of three hours per day. More specifically, infants aged less than a year old reported consuming media for almost 2 hours per day.
The report included the use of computers, television, handheld and console video game plays, as well as smartphones and tablet computers. Keeping this in mind, it is no surprise that this generation is called the touch screen generation, or digital natives.”
“technology is inevitably a part of a child’s life, parents should prioritise unplugged playtime…screen time ought to be supervised to prioritise high-quality content..”
In what ways do children use touch screen technology?
“The most common reason that children use mobile devices is to play games, to use applications, to watch videos, to watch TV movies or to read books. However, despite the move to mobile, TV still dominates children’s screen time. Little is known about the potential impact that tablet computers and smart-phones have on children.”
Veronica Montanaro – Speech & Language Pathologist
What are your views about touch screen technology among children?
“This is a controversial issue. Children can learn when viewing high-quality content on mobile devices. Emerging research also indicates that smart mobile devices have the potential to help advance students’ learning. There is insufficient research that determines the impact of content consumed by children on these devices. There is also limited data about the outcome of the context within which these devices are used. These two factors – content and context – could have more impact than simply assessing the duration of a child’s screen time during a given day.
While technology is inevitably a part of a child’s life, parents should prioritise unplugged playtime. Also, screen time ought to be supervised to prioritise high-quality content and media of educational value.”
Is there a difference between the effect of TV use and tablet use in children
“Television still is the most popular platform when it comes to watching educational and entertaining programmes. However, the nature of TV viewing is changing, with time-shifting of programs becoming quite common. Generally, programmes watched are either streamed or downloaded. The divide between TV screen time and tablet/mobile viewing is also blurred as children view the same content on different devices. The actual content being consumed is a more pertinent consideration to make than the device that is being used to consume that content.”
“Co-viewing..provides an opportunity for parents to understand what their child’s interests are.”
Is there any age that is too young?
“Many children are first introduced to touch screen use in what cultural anthropologists and media observers are calling the “pass-back” effect. This is when there is a moment of relief when a parent hands their digital device to a child on a car ride, standing in a queue, or in a waiting room. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than 18 months should avoid the use of screen media, other than video chatting. Parents of children between the ages of 18 and 24 months, who wish to introduce digital media to their children, should select high-quality programmes or applications, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they seeing. Co-viewing also provides an opportunity for parents to understand what their child’s interests are.”
Should parents limit the amount of screen time with their children?
“Problems begin when media use replaces physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world, which is critical to learning. Too much screen time can also harm the amount and quality of sleep. Once again, the AAP recommends that children between the ages of 2 to 5 years should have limited screen time of up to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. During this age, it is ideal for parents to co-view what is watched on screens to help children understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.”
“The AAP recommends that parents identify media-free times together, such as dinnertime or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as their bedroom”
What about older children?
“Once children are 6 and older, it is still recommended that media does not take the place of adequate sleep; physical activity and other behaviour that is essential to their well-being, and time limits are still recommended. The AAP recommends that parents identify media-free times together, such as dinnertime or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as their bedroom. Parents should have on-going communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.”
How can parents help ensure that their children do not come across inappropriate material on the internet whilst using their tablets?
“Most devices have got ‘parental control settings’ built into the system. This allows parents to turn off some applications, stop children from downloading and purchasing new apps or in-app purchases or website filter to help keep adult content off the iPad.” Click here for more information.
Veronica continues to explain that if parents are concerned that their child may come across inappropriate content whilst using YouTube they can also enable YouTube’s Safety Mode. Parents can also use the inbuilt settings, such as “Guided Access” (for Apple devices) to set time-limits or “SureLock” (for Android devices).
She says, “Living in the digital era, children are immersed in technology. This has both positive and negative effects on their development. While we recognise the ubiquitous presence of technology and its potential for use as an effective teaching platform, there needs to be a conscious effort to create a healthy media diet for every child.
This means that a balance needs to be found between screen time, physical activity, and unplugged social interaction between the child, carers, peers, and relatives. Mealtime, for instance, is an ideal opportunity for children to develop the foundations of social communication skills and a deeper bond with parents and carers.”
Click here for some more tips on how to balance screen time with your family.
Thanks to Veronica Montanaro for these great insights into incorporating technology into family life. Veronica also forms part of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology network (also known as COST Action). They are currently working on a research project entitled Play for children with disability. She is also a committee member of ACAMH. She is currently the service coordinator for the Team for the Assessment of Attention and Social Communication (TAASC), a privately run multidisciplinary team.