June 26, 2019 Naomi Keyser, Al Jalila Children's Speciality Hospital

Screen time for children: How much is too much?

Technology has evolved so rapidly over the last few years that we are now dependent on it for everything and anything. Naomi Keyser, team leader at Rehab Department, and occupational therapist, discusses the challenges created by technology on the development of children in Dubai, and how parents can help.

From paying bills and making purchases, to online gaming, banking/business and communication – technology has, in essence, guided and assisted us to live and work smarter and more time/cost effectively.

With the positive impact it has had on our daily lives, it comes at a cost as well.

From a rehabilitation perspective: the most common challenges that we see, is the negative impact on the development of children, especially those of a young age (younger than 6 years).

Children’s exposure to screen time starts at a very young age and often for extended periods of time. This leaves very little time for them to interact with family members, peers and their immediate environment, which are all factors that contribute to their normal development.

So let’s start by defining what screen time is. By definition, screen time is inactive time spent watching a screen, such as television, tablet, cell phone, gaming consoles etc. The impact of screen time varies depending on the age of the child and the time spent. We have witnessed mild cases to addictive cases, however, the main side effects are mostly consistent. Mainly, behaviour and cognition: aggression, tantrums, not following instructions, poor concentration, inattention, depression, anxiety, decreased memory, missed learning opportunities and poor academic performance, decreased problem solving skills.

Also, from a sensory perspective, children often show symptoms of delayed milestones, sensory overload, impaired visual development, poor self-regulation, poor balance and gross motor skills.

Add to that some of the physiological effects that include unregulated sleep patterns, physical changes to the brain structure and anatomy, obesity due to inactivity. Lastly, children that spend extended periods of time on screens might develop issues with their communication skills. This includes poor language development/delays, parrot speech, decreased family time and interaction.

Ultimately, the role of parents is crucial in avoiding the above developmental issues. Through our experience, from observing cases in the past few years, we find that most parents tend to take this issue lightly and discover the impact of their child’s habitual screen time when it is too late. The World Health Organisation has addressed this issue due to its importance, and issued guidelines for parents to refer to:

  • 0-2 years: no screen time
  • 2-5 years: 1 hour per day
  • 6+ years: maximum 2 hours per day

Committing to these guidelines will greatly help the child to live a happy and healthy childhood, it will also allow parents to spend more time with their kids and ensure that family time is much more important than screen time.

To learn more about the Rehabilitation Centre at Al Jalila Children’s Speciality Hospital, visit the website. 

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