For many parents and caregivers, it is often tempting to keep their to be entertained by gadgets such as televisions, mobile phones, tablets or computers as they catch up with chores, assignments or work.
The upside of this ‘babysitting’ method is that it works -- very well in fact. Most children can remain busy for hours while they are in front of a screen.
The downside is that long hours of screen time affect their development. Medics highly discourage exposing young children under the age of two years to screens as this may affect the stages of development.
Recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics state that children should have limited screen time, those under 18 months of age should have zero screen time, from 18 months to five years should get one hour of screen time in 24 hours while the older ones can get a maximum of 2 hours a day.
The World Health Organisation goes even further, recommending no screen time for babies under 2 years and no more than one hour of screen time a day for those aged 2 to 4 years.
According to Dr Peninnah Musyoka, a Paediatrician at Machakos Children’s Clinic, this is because the effects of screen time affect the brain of the developing child.
“The screen time may be personalised where the child is watching alone or shared screen time where all people are watching, for example in the evening when the whole family is watching the television,” Dr Musyoka says.
Dr Musyoka says screens affect the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, which is triggered by darkness. Screen time also triggers the release of dopamine is a ‘feel good’ hormone that is linked to addiction.
Exposure to too much screen time can affect a child’s ability to cope with their internal and external environments, hence increasing meltdowns and aggressive behaviour.
“The child is unable to know how to relate with self and others,”
A child gets speech at around 18 months to two years, with the expectation that they can utter simple phrases like ‘I need water’, and ‘I want to play,’ and the parents or caregivers should be able to reciprocate.
Dr Musyoka says that when that is missing, the child will not develop leading to speech delay, hence advises parents and caregivers to limit the screen exposure to the young children.
“You may find a child at 3 years with no speech, only saying one or two words or begin to speak like the cartoons, because that is the only communication they know.”