How to manage your toddler’s screen time

toddler screen time

by Stephanie Anthony |
Updated on

Kids are constantly surrounded by screens, they grow up with them. Ofcom estimates that in the UK the average 3-4-year-olds spends 3 hours a day in front of a screen!

Screens have been our parenting saviour, and whether you're sticking a film on Netflix, a toddler TV show or they're playing a game on the iPad, they're a welcome distraction when you're trying to get anything done. But of course, like with anything balance is important.

Children’s first years of development are the most important and as their behaviours are learnt through observation of the world around them, this explains why as a parent your technology addiction may be leading your child down a technology dependent path.

Despite the many benefits of these inventions - indeed some apps and games can be very educational - excessive amounts of screen time can lead to a number of eye problems in children, such as near-sightedness and eye fatigue leading to eye discomfort, dimness of vision and headache. To avoid experiencing any permanent damage, children should refrain from spending lots of time behind a screen.

If you are struggling to get your children away from tablets, phones and TVs this article will explore some of the ways you can encourage your child to ditch the screen.

With a generation of very tech savvy toddlers and super fast internet speeds, our tots are quicker than we are when it comes to navigating their way around a tablet or computer. And while this will stand them in good stead when it comes to using technology in school, it's important we learn more about the impact that screentime can have on our little ones.

Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman states that, by the time they are seven years old, most children born today will have spent the equivalent of a full year glued to screens.

The internet provokes what we call a ‘Butterfly mentality’; where the brain flits from thing to thing without having to focus for very long

“By it’s very nature, the internet provokes what we call a ‘Butterfly mentality’; where the brain flits from thing to thing without having to focus for very long,” says Martina Barrett, Co-Founder of VAKS, the Hertfordshire-based Tuition company that prides itself on bringing educational support back to real people and real learning.

“When children are constantly on iPads and smartphones, it’s no surprise they find it increasingly difficult to sit in a classroom and concentrate for up to an hour at a time. We are finding that children become tired quicker, their engagement with printed texts is not as great and even their motor skills are suffering from the constant use of touch screens as opposed to toys and tools that require manual manipulation.”

What is FOBO?

Experts in both social psychology and technological development have spoken about the phenomenon of FOBO (Fear Of Being Offline - also known as FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out) and its direct correlation with anxiety symptoms; where sufferers are compelled to constantly check their devices in order to reassure themselves that they have not somehow missed out on something.

“The irony is that, due to online formats, children are technically reading more often these days - but it’s not Committed Reading, where they sit down and properly focus on a book. They’re skimming short blocks of text and most of their information is given in the form of videos, Vines and games.”

All down to dopamine?

According to research, our reduced attention spans could be due to the effects of dopamine released in our brains as we browse the internet.

Dopamine is the chemical responsible for transmitting signals in the brain and is activated when something good happens unexpectedly. Usually linked with rewards and addictive behaviour, browsing the internet often leads to a spike in our dopamine levels and spurs us on to seek another immediate high.

“Constant exposure to screens is not just affecting children’s ability to learn, it is affecting their ability to process information and apply it in a meaningful way,” says Martina. “Technology is definitely the forefront of the modern world but there are still many events that require young people to focus and work methodically – whether that’s in an exam, when writing a personal statement or setting up a science experiment.”

“Our recommendation would always be to limit the amount of time children spend on screens, especially before bed or after school,” says Jacqui. “In today’s world, our devices have become an immediate source of entertainment rather than tools to be used when needed. Children need to learn that their iPad is no substitute for their own brain!”

screen time management
cute girl using digital tablet

Ways to find balance when it comes to screentime

Here are five tips to help manage your child’s technology use and stop the inevitable tears that come with denying a three-year-old a tablet or screen time.

1) Set screen time guidelines

It is highly recommended with young children that you provide clear guidelines and rules of when and how they are allowed to use technology, this saves any confusion or pushing of boundaries.

Furthermore, make sure it is clear to your child what repercussions they face if they ignore the guidelines, that way they are aware of what may happen should they not follow the technology rules and will understand the limits.

It is very important for your children to get a good night's sleep and even us grown ups know how being on our phones late at night can disrupt our sleep. That's why it's a good idea to ensure your little ones avoid screen time in the hours leading up to their bed time by swapping screens for books, board games, bathtime or an after dinner walk outside.

2) Keep technology out of reach

Of course, technology is a great medium for your child to learn and keeps your little one busy when required such as on a flight, however too much tech time where it begins to act as an e-babysitter can be detrimental to your child’s health and development.

For example, the lack of social interaction and eye strain from staring at a screen day are two risks caused simply by too much technology. This is why we suggest you remove the temptation of technology and keep electronics out of reach most of the day.

3) Utilise parental technology controls

Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and due to the risks of the web, it is recommended you set up parental technology controls on the devices your child uses.

Also depending on your child’s age, ensure that you let your little one know that there are risks on the internet and make sure you know your child’s passwords and account names so you can monitor their online activity.

4) Encourage outdoor play

It is not healthy for a child to be trapped indoors all day glued to their gadgets, which is why you should actively encourage alternatives to technology such as outdoor play. Simple games such as hide and seek, hopscotch, riding a bike or flying a kite will help keep your kids busy and active without the need to reach for technology.

5) Set a good example

As aforementioned children learn through observation, therefore inevitably they will learn and copy your behaviours as they spend the most time out of everyone with their parents.

From an early age, you should set a good example to your children, if they constantly see you addicted to technology with your phone out at the dinner table or with your laptop out before bed they will instinctively pick up on your behaviours which can start a path to technology dependency. Your child will not understand why it is one rule for you and one rule for them in terms of technology at such an early stage in their cognitive development.

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