The positives and negatives of screen time

Posted on 27 February 2020

Screen time can be a useful learning tool – or a chronic, dangerous distractor.

Your child can learn many things from a screen. The lyrics to nursery rhymes, the names of colours, even how to count. This is why child-friendly learning apps and shows are so prevalent, and so popular.

But learning from this medium can also have a negative effect: the screen can take up time your child could spend learning other things. Charon Streit, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Gariep and Mediclinic Kimberley, says technology has a valuable role to play in the normal course of any child’s development. The problem comes in, she says, when screen time becomes excessive.

Based on recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children aged between two and five should spend no more than one hour per day in front of a screen, while older children and teenagers should be mindful of balancing media use with other healthy behaviours.

Streit agrees, saying screen time should never consume time for other important developmental tasks. “Whether it is a movie that has an underlying theme that can be used to discuss emotional difficulties, or a recreational game or educational programme that deals with a specific subject of interest, technology has value, if used with discretion.”

As your child grows older, those screens play a more extensive role. Mobile phones, for example, can make communicating with family and friends that much easier. Apps and videos can also encourage children to adopt healthy habits, such as regular exercise, mindful eating – and monitoring screen time.

However, if used indiscriminately, they can have a limiting effect on normal development. In younger children, there is the danger that screens hamper language development, robbing your child of necessary social context, creating a closed loop where they learn only what is presented, not what could be.

In the same way, screens can restrict creative thinking, imagination and even problem solving. Reading books, using crafts and playing with toys do the opposite – creating tangible experiences and encouraging out-of-the-box decision-making.

The knock-on effect of this is a child who has limited skills to draw on in social settings, including school.

Variety is the spice of every child’s life, says Streit. “Different skills, including living a balanced life, having the ability to express themselves creatively, being active and practising proper relaxation skills, can be helpful in addressing these difficulties.”

Balance can help your child establish a well-rounded skill set on which to base a healthy self-esteem. “To develop different intelligences, including mental, physical, emotional and musical, your child’s activities should include playing outdoors, spending time with the family, developing their creativity, being active and spending time with their peers,” she says.


Further reading:

The effects of screen time on ADHD

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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