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According to many medical experts, babies less than one-and-a-half years old should not have access to technology, specifically computer, tablet, or smartphone screens. Overexposure to these devices has been linked to a variety of concerns, including diminished brain function, sleep disturbances, and social ineptness. However, as children age, technology can provide many benefits, including access to educational materials, preparation for the future in a digital world, and boosted decision-making skills.

While it’s generally accepted that children are going to encounter screens, the question remains: Should your toddler have access to a smartphone or tablet? The answer for most families is yes, but young children — especially those whose brains are still in rapid-development mode — should be monitored closely and restricted to the types of content they view.

Why Should I Limit My Child’s Media Use?

There are a host of reasons that kids’ access to digital devices should be limited. An overreliance on electronics can lead to a host of health and behavioral problems, including:

  • Poor sleep. Screens both large and small are overstimulating. Further, they emit blue light, which mimics the effects of the sun on the body. Children often get caught up using their devices, especially when they have them in their bedrooms and can take them to bed. This can significantly impact the quality and amount of sleep they get, and toddlers need as much as 14 hours of shuteye each day. 
  • Delayed social skills. A toddler learns about the world around them, including the people in their lives, through hands-on contact. Kids that are allowed to indulge in excessive television or given a computer or tablet to keep them engaged miss out on chances to explore their surroundings. This can result in delayed social skills.
  • Impaired language development. As your children enter into the walking and talking stage, they strengthen their verbal skills by communicating with people. No amount of screen time can replace back-and-forth dialogue, which is largely how toddlers learn to understand language. Too much screen time can also affect your child’s short-term memory and lead to problems learning how to read, both of which can inhibit healthy language development.
  • Obesity in childhood. Obesity is a raging epidemic across the globe, not just the United States. Unfortunately, rises in childhood obesity can be directly linked to screen media exposure. The US National Library of Medicine notes that there have been many studies — starting in the 1980s — that link technology and obesity. Reasons for this run rampant, but most experts agree that the influx of overweight individuals is caused in part by sedentary lifestyles, which are perpetuated by our reliance on technology.
  • Behavioral problems and learning disorders.  Kids who watch too much television or are exposed to excessive screen time in their formative years have a significantly higher risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This condition, which is both a neurological disorder and a learning disability, can lead to behavioral issues, diminished progress in school, and poor self-esteem.

Screen Time Can Be Healthy

Despite its drawbacks, today’s children must learn how to navigate digital devices. Because of this, it is wise to allow some guided tech for the youngest members of your family. You can help ensure quality screen time by first previewing apps, games, and shows that your child has or wants access to. More importantly, use your devices together. Do not simply hand your toddler a phone and give them free rein of its functions. Allow them access to visually-stimulating games, and play them together. Watch content that encourages physical activity, such as exercise videos or dance tutorials, and allow them to video chat with grandparents and friends. These interactions count toward their time developing relationships, and in some cases, staying connected via smart devices may even ease emotional distress on a child with divorced parents.

Screen Time Guidelines

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to avoid media usage in children who are under 18 months. From 18 months to two years, there is no specific time limit, but parents are cautioned to choose high-quality programming. By the age of two, the Academy suggests no more than 60 minutes of co-viewed media each day.

Signs that Your Child Has Had Too Much Screen Time

The above guidelines can go a long way toward helping you make a healthy decision about your toddler’s screen time, but they are just that — guidelines. It’s up to you to ensure that your child isn’t getting too much pixel exposure. A few warning signs of overuse and/or screen addiction are:

  • Child goes straight for device upon waking
  • Toddler is inconsolable when told they must put their device away
  • Child sneaks to play with their device when you are not looking
  • They only display signs of happiness when a phone or tablet is in their hands
  • They don’t show signs of interest in anything outside of their digital environment

The question of whether or not your own toddler should be allowed to use media is one you must consider carefully. Having access to technology will benefit them into adulthood, but time limits and restrictions should be put into place at an early age.