Technology is such a large part of our lives now. We are endlessly connected to each other through cellphones, email, facebook and twitter – the list goes on. Technology allows us to do so many things, but it can also interfere with the interactions between parent and child.

Setting limits on how and when we use technology is important.  We know that regardless of the advances in communications technologies, young children need to interact with real people for healthy development. This week we discuss how digital media affects your child, and what parents can do to ensure media is being used in age-appropriate ways.

Tips for Your Baby/Toddler (Birth to 36 months):
  • Limit screen time: The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that children under the age of 2 should not be exposed to any screen time whatsoever, and that screen time should be limited to one hour maximum for children 2 – 4 years.  Studies show that young children really don’t have the capacity to understand what is happening on a screen. Be with your kids when they spend time on screens – to make sure what they’re viewing is appropriate, and to help them understand new ideas.
  • Less time with gadgets, more time with you: Do you know what young children never get bored of? YOU. Many companies come out with the latest in gadgets that promise to make your child better, stronger or smarter, but remember your child learns more from you than of those things.  Your relationship is what makes a healthy, happy child and creates a well-adjusted adult.
  • Turn devices off during meals: When you are feeding your child, make sure that all electronics are off. Use that time to talk or sing to your child. Your child learns important social skills as you make eye-contact and speak to him while enjoying a meal together. It’s important for kids to learn how to enjoy eating with the family, without distractions. 
  • Encourage active play: Watching passive media, like TV, often leads to sedentary behaviours such as sitting or lying down for long periods of time. This is an age where your child should be exercising every muscle he has in order to master his fine and gross motor skills. Learning to move and play with loose parts, such as blocks, allows him to use his fingers to manipulate objects and to improve his balance by lifting items from the floor and bringing them to another spot.
Tips for Your Preschooler (36 months to 48 months):
  • Watch educational programs together: The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that children between the ages of 2-4 are exposed to no more than 1 hour of TV or other electronic devices per day, and a maximum of 2 hours per day for older children. Children in this age group can watch more educational programs, such as “Sid the Science Kid,” however, they will learn more if you are involved.  While watching a program, take the opportunity to talk with your child about what is happening on the screen – that will make it an engaging learning experience. 
  • Turn screens off if they’re not being used: If your child is not actively watching TV or playing on the computer, they should be turned off. Background noise and images from screens have been found to be distracting for kids if they’re trying to do something else i.e. play with toys. The sounds and pictures interfere with a child’s ability to keep focused on the task at hand and can affect her short and long-term memory.
  • No eating in front of the TV: Meal times should not be shared in front of a screen, so turn off the TV and other electronics. When your child sits down for a snack or a meal, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation about his day.
  • Keep the TV out of the bedroom: Young kids need lots of sleep (9 – 12 hours) every night, which they won’t get with their eyes glued to the TV. Plus, it becomes more difficult to monitor whether what they are watching is appropriate.

Want more tips? Read all of the tips from our partnership with Infant Mental Health Promotion at SickKids.