Screen time for infants and children under five is on the rise and researchers are concerned.
The impact of smart technology on developing brains is yet to be fully realised and experts encourage parents and caregivers to be mindful of excessive hours of screen time for very young children.
The addictive nature of screens is well documented, with brain imaging research showing that screen time affects the frontal cortex in the same way as cocaine.
Excessive screen usage has been linked to a range of different maladies including obesity, anxiety, depression and even psychotic symptoms. Dr Aric Sigman, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain's Royal Society of Medicine, says getting hooked on tablets and smartphones can cause permanent damage to the still-developing brains of very young children.
In the paper What Screen Time Can Really Do to Kids' Brains, Dr Margalit found that children exposed to high levels of daily screen-time were more likely to have shorter attention spans, an inability to concentrate, a hypersensitive sensory system, underdeveloped fine and gross motor skills and poor social skills and emotional regulation.
"Too much screen time too soon, interrupts the very developmental skills parents are keen to promote."Dr Aric Sigman
The Health and Wellbeing of Tasmania's Children and Young People Report shows a decline in children's oral language and fine and gross motor skills as they enter school.
There has been a downward trend since 2012 with Tasmanian children being more at risk than the national average.
It is not only the screen time of children that is of concern to researchers and early childhood development experts.
The behaviour that parents and primary caregivers model to children is vital in children's understanding of the role of technology in their lives.
Diane Nailon OAM is an early childhood educator and academic at the University of Tasmania and wants parents and caregivers to reassess their own relationship with technology to model technology as a tool and not a dependency.
Through modelling the inherent usefulness of technology to young children, Ms Nailon believes that parents and caregivers can model a healthy relationship to technology.
She is a firm believer that screens should not be omitted from a child's life and that parents and primary caregivers can take steps towards modelling a more mindful relationship with their own devices.
Some of her suggestions are:
- Talking to children about why you are using a device. Such as looking up a recipe, uploading work documents or having an important conversation.
- Prioritising face-to-face conversations.
- Putting your phone away when possible.
- Use screens purposefully as a family to connect with loved ones who live far away.
Ms Nailon also encourages scheduling activities and projects with children away from screens, such as gardening, going for walks, creating art or baking together.
"Young children love to help. They love to feel respected and seen in that way," she said. "Asking a child to help you with a project is a brilliant way to engage with them away from technology."
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