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How does excessive screen time affect your child’s development?

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Hands up if you’re guilty of using gadgets to keep your kids occupied while you juggle work and household chores. As our lives get increasingly busy, it’s simply more convenient to have your phone or iPad double up as a babysitter.

With children being exposed to technology at an earlier age, it’s not surprising that toddlers lack the basic motor skills required to play with building blocks, but can easily swipe screens. Nurturing a tech-savvy child is fine but excessive screen time exposes your child to health problems such as decreased concentration, obesity and reduced attention span.

Too much gadget use rewires your child’s brain…
Children’s brains develop fastest in the first three years of life, laying a foundation for their future. For the brain’s neural networks to develop optimally, they require specific stimuli from the real external environment and unsurprisingly, not from gadgets. Without this real stimuli their development is stunted.

Gadgets bombard us with dozens of stimuli and a need to process multiple actions simultaneously. But this ‘shortcut’ approach doesn’t allow children the time to process voices into words, visualise pictures and mentally link images and objects together, resulting in underdeveloped cognitive muscles.

…and contributes to obesity, poor social skills and bad posture
Jillian Bromley, Director of Fernhill Psychologists and Counsellors, says, “Research shows young children who watch screens for more than the recommended one to two hours per day are more likely to become overweight because of inactivity, giving in to the pressure of junk food advertisements and changes in brain chemicals related to hunger and satisfaction. Further research also shows there is also a significant impact on children’s ability to develop social and emotional skills and understand emotions in others.”

In addition to poor posture and eye strain caused by hunching over and staring at screens, excessive gadget use can also lead to gaming addiction and cyber-bullying, according to a local study.

Too much device time also erodes your child’s imagination, as well as their capacity for daydreaming and ability to engage in free play. They may also lack social skills and have trouble socialising with their peers. Being confined to an indoor environment, the lack of physical activity limits the external stimulation they need for growth from physical play.

Moderation is everything
However, this doesn’t mean that you need to cut out gadget use completely. Devices serve educational and entertainment purposes and it’s about finding a balance. Like most things in life, moderation is key so limit screen time to a maximum of two hours daily. Ensure your child gets plenty of play time with real children outdoors. They not only get exercise, but learn valuable skills for interacting with their peers.

Lastly, set an example. Put your phone away during mealtimes and have a face-to-face conversation. Read a book, do a crossword puzzle or go cycling together. Your child will be happier and healthier, and your relationship better.

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