Please Help Spread the Word About Screen Time

A colleague in London sent me a newspaper article about the cot (crib, here in the States) pictured above. The only positive thing I can say about this abomination is that the reaction to it – even among parents – has been negative. Thank goodness for small miracles.

I hear and see so many things these days — much of it involving screen time — that make me either want to cry or scream: Parents and children in restaurants, with everyone staring at a device, instead of talking to each other – or instead of children coloring and refining their small motor skills and creativity. Infants in carriages playing with a phone. Babies who have so little experience with books – and so much with screens – that, when handed a book, they try to swipe the pages. (That one really hurts my heart.) Often, I have to bite my tongue, lest I say something that could start a riot.

Why are people (parents, in particular) so misinformed? Why do they fail to understand the importance of language and the kind of interaction with three-dimensional items that offer a child multiple possibilities (rather than the singular response an app is looking for)? Why do they fail to understand the value of such tried-and-true activities as peekaboo and “This Little Piggy?” Is the rejection of such activities due to the fact that families are spread and far and wide in today’s culture, and therefore the older generation isn’t present to pass on such traditions? Is it due to the fact that these activities seem hopelessly old-fashioned? To the belief that anything new and shiny, simply by virtue of being new and shiny, must be better?

And why is everyone so unaware of the research showing a correlation between screen time and widespread myopia (and other vision problems), depression, aggression, anxiety, and language delays? Is it possible it’s such a well-kept secret that I’m only aware of it because I’m looking for it?

If you’re an early childhood professional, I’m asking for your help! First and foremost, please limit (or, preferably, exclude) screen time from your setting. Most children are certainly getting more than enough at home.

Also, please help spread the word about the research. Help parents understand how young children really learn! And make them aware of the dangers inherent in too much screen time. You can do it gently. Recently, I was at a gathering where a woman handed her five-month-old grandson her iPhone, saying, “He loves all the buttons and colors on this.” I smiled at her and quietly said, “Of course! You just want to be careful that he doesn’t get too much exposure.” I then briefly outlined what the research is showing.

Fortunately, you don’t have to look very far for support in this cause. Nancy Carlsson-Paige (one of my early childhood heroes) has recently authored a downloadable report titled, “Young Children in the Digital Age: A Parent’s Guide.” This 16-page report details six core ideas:

  1. Young children use their whole bodies and all of their senses to learn about the world.
  2. Young children learn from direct, first-hand experience in the real world.
  3. Young children learn by inventing ideas.
  4. Young children make sense of their world through play.
  5. Young children build inner resilience and coping skills through play.
  6. Children live and learn in a context of social relationships.

At the end of the report are suggestions for putting the six core ideas to use. You can download it here.

Also, if you want to help fight back against online preschool – and I hope you do! – click here to read a joint statement from Defending the Early Years and Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood opposing its public funding. I’m one of more than a hundred who have signed the petition — but it’s not too late for you to join the campaign opposing this horrible idea!

As educator Diane Levin (another hero) has stated, young children are not passive recipients. I worry tremendously about what will become of today’s young children if they continue to be treated as though they are.


  • Hello Rae ~ I could hardly believe the screen in the crib! I think this item should be deemed “harmful to infants’ & children’s health” by whatever are the legally designated bodies all around the World, and banned. The evidence is already in. The consequences on infants of this type of product must be known by its manufacturers and it drives me utterly bonkers – the only other option is despair, and I refuse to go down without a fight!

    Please excuse my adding below a small selection of facts I’ve gathered over a good deal of research, particularly relevant to very young children and infants. I’m not trying to puff my Posts, but if you want to learn more, the details are at the end of this reply. (Underlining and emboldening of text didn’t copy over – I have capitalised some text for emphasis.)

    The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne,
    Australian Child Health Poll of 21 June 2017.

    The Director of the Australian Child Health Poll, Paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes, said one of the most significant findings, that directly affected children’s health, was the impact of screen use at bedtime on sleep.

    “Almost half of children regularly use screen-based devices at bedtime, with one in four children reporting associated sleep problems.

    “The poll also reveals that 50 percent of toddlers and preschoolers are using a screen-based device without supervision.

    “The demands of the modern lifestyle mean a lot of parents are busy, so they use screen use as a digital babysitter. We found that 85 percent of parents of young children say they use screens to occupy their kids so they can get things done.” Dr Rhodes said.

    Dr Rhodes adds that the poll identified a link between parents’ screen use and their children’s use of screens.
    “A strong relationship was seen between parents’ screen use and that of their children. Basically, a parent who has high levels of screen use is more likely to have a child with high levels of use. Three quarters of parents of children under six also said they do not put time limits on screen use.

    The Australian Child Health Poll overall key findings include the following.

    * Eighty-five percent of parents of young children (aged less than 6 years) said they used screen-based devices to occupy their kids so they could get things done with one in four doing this every day of the week.

    * Younger children also spend a significant time using screens at home; infants and toddlers averaged 14 hours, the two to five year-olds 26 hours, and the six to 12-year age group averaged 32 hours per week.

    Note: “A screen-based device in this poll was defined as a television, computer, laptop, gaming console, iPhone, smartphone, iPad and other tablet.”

    Safe Kids, Strong Families

    Teen watching TV | Striking the Technology
    Balance: How Much TV is Too Much?

    A recent study by the American Academy of Paediatrics shows that increasing consumption of digital media by children could be having A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THEIR DEVELOPMENT.

    “These days, technology is hard to avoid … The pervasiveness of the Internet, TV, computer and video games in our daily lives also means that technology is competing for our children’s attention at younger and younger ages. In the United States, the average infant starts watching TV at only 5 months old and 82% of children will go online before they enter the 7th grade.

    ” … Multiple studies have shown that INFANTS EXPOSED TO TWO OR MORE HOURS OF SCREEN TIME BEFORE THEIR FIRST BIRTHDAY makes them SIX TIMES MORE LIKELY to experience poor language development. Studies have also linked EXCESSIVE TV WATCHING IN CHILDREN with a higher likelihood developing cognitive and social / emotional delays, obesity, and sleep disorders.”

    My Posts, “Beware the Light!!”, and “Parents Need to Monitor Children’s Internet Use”, cover a great deal of material I have researched. The facts show shocking negative impacts on over-use of blue-light emitting devices. Please see my website, “Education Matters”.

    Thank you Rae for being in the vanguard, always watching out and warning. Kind regards, Iseult

  • Jutta Hepworth says:

    I work in an early childhood setting and we certainly do not use screens in our classrooms. There is so much else to choose from and I would prefer an empty cardboard box any day before I would even begin to consider a screen.
    Don´t get me wrong, I am not a luddite, but I don´t think babies, toddlers and young children require screens.

    I do think we, as early years professionals, need to educate our parents. During our first parent evening of the school year I give a talk about what children need and how the body and the brain develop. I throw in a lot of information from neuroscience and neurodevelopmental movement. Parents seem to like the science bit and often later comment that taking the children to the park for unstructured climbing, moving and running (the body has this amazing ability to seek out what it needs) has a different meaning now they understand what is happening in their children´s body. Often parents act out of insecurity, wanting their child to not miss out on anything; after all, if something is “made for babies” it´s got to be good, right? Maybe we should also make manufacturers of these items more responsible for what they produce – maybe they should be regulated much as pharmaceutical companies.

    At the same time, we live in a “what about me” culture, where people are increasingly selfish and concerned with their own needs. We work long hours in order to afford many desirable consumer items, after which we are tired and need me time to recuperate. Just as many people work many hours just to afford the basics, housing, food, heat and in the US of course health care. Children with their need for attention can get in the way of tired overworked parents, so sticking them in front of a screen is a babysitter who is always easily available.

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