Young children and screens

Nowadays screens are omnipresent in the house, there is the television in the living room, dad’s computer in the office, the phone in mom’s hand. Generally children are very attracted to screens and it can be tempting to let your child in front of them in order to be able to do something else.

But even if screens can have certain positive effects, particularly on the development of the child. It is important to understand that their use has to be specific and timed. In fact, the endless exposure to screens has proven negative effects on our kids. We know that in order to develop fully, a young child needs to interact with others either by talking with them or by doing other kinds of activities.
Those interactions are the best source of stimulation for a child. It is therefore easy to understand that the more time a child spends in front of a screen, the less he socializes and therefore the less he develops fully.

      Several French and Canadian studies have demonstrated the negative impact that can be caused by overexposure to screens:

  • Poorer motor skills than his schoolmates, due to lack of exploration, touching, playing jumping or running
  • Poor control of his behavior and his emotions (he can have difficulties to calm himself down and be potentially aggressive)
  • Low cognitive ability (short term memory, learning to read and solve math problems)
  • Poor social skills because of lack of interaction
  • Concentration problems
  • Sleeping problems
  • A low self-esteem
This is why there are several recommendations when it comes to screens. It is not recommended to expose children under 2 years old to any screen, without exception. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should not have more than 1 hour of screen time each day, at Max & Lea, we are convinced that half one hour a day is more than enough. We will explain to you the concept of a moral contract and parental example at the end of this article. For children over the age of 5, they should not spend more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen. Contrary to preconceived ideas, screens can also have some positive effects on children. But it is important to keep in mind that before the age of 2, the use of screens is not recommended and they should never replace interactions with others and traditional playing.

A learning tool

Some existing or coming applications could be a better learning tool than television programs because of their interactivity. Children can respond to the stimuli they receive, which helps them discover new forms of interaction. They can learn for example, to recognise sounds, rhythms, characters, etc. They can also develop logic, visual skills and problem-solving abilities. However, parental guidance when they use the application is paramount, as it has been proven that children learn better when they are accompanied and guided.

The 5 tips from Max & Lea: 

Limiting the time spent in front of screens for the whole family
Because an adult has to set an example, it is less effective to tell young children that they should play with toys if he sees mom and dad always in front of a screen. We know that it is difficult because nowadays we have distractions everywhere: the agenda on the phone, the emails on the tablet or the computer, the news on the television etc. We therefore recommend you to separate the screen time from the time you spent with your children, for example you could watch the news while your children are taking a nap.

Set screen time limits and make a moral contract
The introduction of screens in the life of a child has to be regulated. This is done by limiting the time during which the child will be able to use the screen and by reminding him about this limitation when you ask him to stop. That way he will be waiting for that moment and will know how long it will last. It is also convenient to talk with him about what he has learned and seen. That way getting away from the screen will be more gradual. At Max & Lea, we believe that a moral contract with the child will teach him to be responsible to manage the time he spends in front of screens. It is about setting with him how much time he should spend in front of a screen and gradually making sure that he will stop by himself later on. That will also teach the child to respect rules and have self discipline.

Accompany the child as much as possible
We will never say often enough, that a child learns better when accompanied by an adult. Even if it can be tempting to let the child alone with a tablet or application, at Max & Lea we recommend to guide the child step by step. Let them manage the time they spend using a screen themselves but always keep an eye on their evolution. Discussing about what he has just learned afterwards allows the child to memorize what he learned.

Using a screen should never replace social activities or interactions
What we mean is that if it is possible to get the child to do other activities rather than being in front of a screen, then the first option should be preferred. In other words, the screen has to be used occasionally. The fact that the child has the right to use it for 30 minutes a day does not mean that it should become a daily activity. It is always better for them to play outside or practice educational activities at home. It is the best way for your child to develop and the healthiest way too.

A screen should not be a reward for bad behavior
A lot of parents are tempted to let the child in front of a screen to calm them down when they are overexcited. That may sometimes work, but the risk is that the content of the program may irritate the child even further. The loud sounds, special effects and fast images are exposing the child to so many stimuli at the same time, that this could have the opposite effect to the one desired. Especially because the child does not learn to control or to regulate his mood by himself. Which is essential for him to learn. Unfortunately, using a screen to calm a child down has the effect of rewarding difficult behavior.
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