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Letter from the Director!

The Overuse of Media and Its Detrimental Effect on Child Development

Kelsey Thomas, Director of Education and Training, and myself presented information regarding the overuse of media with children and the fact that it stunts natural development. The following is information based on our research on screen time.

Nearly one in five kids use mobile devices every day. Based on a survey of 1,463 parents of children aged 0-8 years old in 2013, only 60% could read or were read to while 58% watched TV.

Screen time can negatively affect children’s social-emotional and cognitive development, lead to health implications, and inhibit real life experiences and face-to-face interactions that help children develop. Psychological difficulties including hyperactivity, emotional problems, and difficulties with peers have been associated with 2 or more hours a day of screen time for school-aged children. Additionally, childhood obesity, sleep disturbances, and sleep irregularities are linked to TV and media time as well.

Research states that a shrinkage develops in the part of the brain (grey matter) where processing occurs when there are internet or gaming addictions. Immoderate amounts of screen time appear to damage brain structure and function.

In children under three, the use of screen media is linked to a delay in language acquisition. This may seem strange since the child is hearing language when watching media. However, the child is not participating in the conversation and using his or her skills. Regarding math, adolescents who had watched 1 hour of television each day as toddlers developed lower math skills than their peers.

“Executive functioning skills” include attention span, delaying gratification, self-regulation, and problem solving. These skills are negatively impacted after just 20 minutes of fast-paced animated media viewing. It might seem easier at first to plug a child into media to keep him or her entertained while you do the adult duties of the day, but in the long run, the lack of attention span and personal problem-solving skills can cost the parent more time dealing with tantrums in the store or in having to repeat yourself a lot when managing home life.

The alternative to using media is to engage your child more often in what you are doing and teach him/her to be a helper. This not only encourages real life relational experiences, but can also help with parent/child bonding as well. Toddlers can fetch diaper supplies for siblings or hold on to an orange while in the grocery store to keep it from “rolling away.” Grade-school children can punch numbers into the calculator as mom or dad dictates to balance the checkbook. And they can help with cooking as well! Older children can assist with gardening, house chores, or take a walk with you and the dog. In good weather, family activities may migrate outdoors, which gives children the space and freedom to learn and explore, as well as develop their physical skills while being supervised and interacting with parents. A “game” of putting toys and clothes away followed by a healthy treat for doing a good job can keep your child busy and physically active in a positive way that supports family life.

Toys and games that make good alternatives to screen time include making forts, singing songs, playing with puzzles, mazes, or coloring. Children can also write their own mini books and invent their own songs. The less media that is used, the more creative family life can be.

Tina McClintic


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