Do you find yourself feeling tempted to quell your child’s boredom and/or tantrums with more screen time? Here’s why you should think twice about using your phone as a digital pacifier.
These days, the ‘new normal’ for many of us is struggling to master balancing a busy work-from-home schedule and taking care of our little ones.
Often times we find ourselves at our wits’ end as multiple objects at home compete for our attention at the same time. You find yourself thinking: Do I answer that call from my boss, or do I appease my child who is currently throwing her worst tantrum to date?
At this point, many of us might instinctively turn to smart devices to calm our little ones down. They never fail to do their job – they almost always brighten our children’s moods, and instantly at that. However, as research shows, their boredom- and tantrum-quelling abilities are too good to be true.
Here are 3 reasons why using screen time as a digital pacifier is never a good idea:
1. You are failing to address your little one’s feelings
Every time you hand your smartphone to your unhappy or misbehaving child, you are acting reactively. That means, you are most likely not getting to the root cause of the problem; the ‘why’ of it all.
Often times, tantrums act as a signal to let you know that your child is tired, hungry or feeling uncomfortable in any way. And when you fail to take into consideration their emotions and simply mete out a smartphone that seems to magically solve the problem, you are effectively using a short-term solution that can incur bigger problems in the long run. Consequently, you will have to do a whole lot of ‘undoing’ later in their lives.
What are these problems?:
2. Their device dependency may develop into addiction
The early years of every child’s life are indisputably their formative years. These are the critical stages in their lives where their routines and habits that they take with them into their adulthood take root. And as you can imagine, resorting to screen time to ‘pacify’ your children is a recipe for disaster later on in their lives. Why?
Screen time from an early age can lead to device dependency.
When your child receives a digital device whenever he is restless and moody, he/she may start to form a dependence on them. Screen time starts to become a coping mechanism and a habit which might snowball into an unhealthy routine (which will most definitely be hard to break!).
Device dependency can even take a toll on your little one’s mental health! In fact, research shows that excessive dependency on digital devices, particularly smartphones, can lead to internet addiction and increases the risk of anxiety and depressive symptoms!
3. It may cost them their physical health
Beyond the mental health ramifications, your child’s device dependency may also take a toll on his/her physical health.
Prolonged periods of near-work and excessive screen time are risk factors associated with myopia (near-sightedness). Moreover, research shows that three hours or longer of screen time per day is linked to an increase in the likelihood of developing dry eye in children, one of the symptoms of eye strain, by more than 13 times! Reasons for this are complex but include reduced and incomplete blinking while staring at screens.
Beyond that, long periods of smart device use on a daily basis can lead to muscular pains and strains which include, rounded shoulders, tenderness, stiffness, soreness and weakness in the neck, back and shoulder muscles, as well as reduced neck mobility, among others.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should
An inanimate object can never and should never be a substitute for good parenting. While digital devices are arguably the most convenient ‘solution,’ they may not be the right way to go about addressing your child’s boredom or tantrum.
At the end of the day, handing them a phone every time they cry today may result in device dependency issues which can cost them their mental and physical health later on in life. Ultimately, that will be more difficult to ‘undo.’
However, it is important to remember that technology itself is not to blame for this. In fact, our children can benefit from digital devices to a large extent, provided they are used in a healthy manner. That is where we come in.
When your little ones do engage in screen time do remind them to adhere to these device-use guidelines: take breaks between periods of device use (15-minute break after 2 hours of device use), adequate face-to-screen distance, i.e. at least 60cm between the face and computer screens and 30cm when using smart devices, a screen location of 15 – 20 degrees below eye level.
It is our parental duty to empower our little ones to develop a healthy relationship with their devices. The journey may be tough and is one of trial and error, but the lessons, memories and experiences that result from it will be all worth it!