Technology and Talking – Is too much screen time bad for my child?

Our kids are exposed to so many screens, but what is the impact on their development? This video explains what we know about the impacts of screen time on learning to talk.

Check out a full transcript of this video below:

All right, welcome to tonight’s presentation – Technology and talking. What is the big deal? That is the question!

All right. Let me just bring myself onto the screen so you can see me as well. Okay, so tonight’s presentation I guess is all about the realities of bringing up kids with the technology that is around today. The presence of screens. In our everyday existence is that screens are usually within arm’s reach.

So what are we going to talk about today?  I guess a quick overview of what we already know. The message that parents are given all the time about screen time. I’m not going to go over that again too much. We’re going to talk about what we already know, and given what we already know, why do we use screen time? We’re going to talk a bit about what’s happening in your child’s brain when they’re actually watching a screen. And then what the research says, so take a bit more of a deeper dive into the impact. You know different it’s not all the same. So different content is going to be different in terms of its impact or detriment so not all screen time is created equal. How do we make good choices as parents as to what screen time our children should be having?  And then if we know that screen time is not great, what should we be doing. So some alternatives to screen time. And then if we can make those changes, what are the big wins going to be? What are the big wins for a kids going to be and then I guess at the end I’m going to leave you with a bit of a challenge to make some changes to screen time in your house.

What do we already know? So we know screen time is watching anything any device with a screen so it can be the TV, the tablet, iPhone, iPad, smartphones, computers anything with a screen when our child is engaged in that is classed as screen time. We know that screens are almost always with us – usually they are within arms reach – Like I said screens are always with us, which means that screens are always around our kids as well. If your phone’s with you and your child’s with you there’s a screen. How do we limit screen time when there is literally a screen within arm’s reach of our child most of the day?

We know that kids love screens. So it’s hard to limit because it’s something that they love to do. We already know it’s not great for development. I’m not here to tell you that you already know that.  This is a message, we get from day one – screens aren’t great for kids – limit screen time. Maybe you shouldn’t watch TV. So we know it’s not great for development. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later. We know that our kids shouldn’t watch too much. But how much is too much? When should they be watching? What should they be watching? And what is too much? It can be too much for us as well. So we know that as adults we shouldn’t be watching too much, but it’s hard to stop. It is addictive and we know that. Kids are getting this when they watch TV. There is a release of dopamine. Which gives kids pleasure when they watch TV, so it is hard to stop .

Okay, so um, we know that the average pre-schooler spends more than 3.5 hours a day watching TV. So this is kids, you know  2 to  4 year olds are spending more than  3.5 hours a day. If you think about the busy life of a toddler, there’s mealtimes. There’s bath times. There’s nap times. Three hours a day of screen time is not leaving a lot of time for play. For social interactions. For running around. For kicking balls or writing and things like that. And that is the biggest worry. It’s not what the screen is doing per se. We know there are some you know, there can be some impacts with vision and things like that. But it’s more what children are missing out on. So I keep that in mind that is average. This was that from the poll of Australian families about 3000 families took part. So we know that this is a pretty good representation of what pre-schoolers are watching and they’re watching a lot of screen time. Above what would definitely be recommended for that age. So you’re not alone if your kids watching screen time hands up – my child watches the screen, too. But what do we do about it? And how do we minimize impact on development and learning? That’s the big thing.

Well, I think the first thing to know or to think about is if we know already that screen time is not great – well, you know, it’s not great for a kid’s development – then why do we choose it like? Why do we choose that option? And I think you know I think back to my parents. When we were growing up it wasn’t, you know, there wasn’t this option of constant entertainment. I think there was one episode of Sesame Street a day.One episode of play school. And there probably wasn’t a lot else. So, you know it naturally limited itself. We couldn’t watch the amount of screen time that kids these days can have access to.

Well, why do we choose it? Here are some reasons: your child might actually choose when screen time happens because once you start it’s hard to stop and kids do love screen time. We choose it because it keeps our kids quiet. Because they love it and we want to give kids things they love don’t we? We want to keep kids happy. Some parents say, you know, it’s we don’t really watch TV. It’s just on in the background. But that’s important to know, it’s still screen time. Kids are still having to compete with that screen. Well, this is a big one – when my kids are watching TV, they’re not making mess. Isn’t that a bonus? Isn’t that great? And I think that’s an import one to think about because – Yes, it’s absolutely true. The mess is minimized. They’re contained but I would say that the learning is minimized. I find when they’re making the most mess, they’re also having the most fun and they’re learning the most. I need a break. Oh, this is me. I need a break. I need screen time – give me a break. So that’s an important one to think about is that why our kids are watching screen time? What can I be doing to help with that? We need it to survive long car trips. My child uses apps to help them learn. We’re going to talk about that at the end. My child screams when I turn it off. Yes this happens. When we take away something that kids love and how do we minimize that? You know techno tantrums or screen rage or whatever you want to call it. We do it because we need to get something else done. We put the screen on to babysit. It keeps them quiet, keeps them entertained. They’re not making mess and they’re not bothering me and it’s easy isn’t it to do that? Am I I’m guilty doing this myself. But when we do that, we’re denying them a time to learn and to interact and to develop skills that they really need. It’s a part of our routine. That’s a big one or my child needs screen time to relax. So they use screen time.

All right. Well, I want you to think as I go through this presentation and I talk about all the benefits to limiting screen time. What’s going to motivate you to make a change to your child screen habits? And it’s not about all-or-nothing. Absolutely not. It’s about a reasonable amount of screen time and making it quality screen time and then making sure there’s plenty of time for other types of play and it doesn’t need to be interaction with you. It can be teaching our kids to play on their own. To problem-solve, to be creative and those kind of things but if we don’t give them the opportunity they won’t learn.

What happens when our kids watch TV or screen time? Well most of the time they’re passive. We know that often the more rapid the scene changes are, the more kids will be interested in watching something. And we know that for example even babies are really drawn to screens. Research shows where there’s lots of colour and movement and the scenes are changing rapidly and it’s not necessarily that they’re learning or even really enjoying watching it but that they have an instinct to look towards something that’s new or novel. It’s kind of a survival instinct. So, you know, back in the caveman days if you saw a movement, you’d look towards it. It’s that kind of instinct that they are they’re looking towards the screen because it’s changing all the time. And actually that actually raises their cortisol levels as well while they’re doing that so although you know we might be looking at a baby that’s very interested in watching your screen. But what is actually going on for them is they have more cortisol, which is a stress hormone is released and they’re not really voluntarily watching screens. So that’s why it’s really important for babies not to have too much screen time.

Kids are switching off to the real world and they’re having an increased release of dopamine in their brain, which is that pleasure hormone that says hey, I’m really enjoying this. I want to keep doing this more and more. That’s not just kids. We all get that when we watch TV. Which is why you know? You can binge watch lots of shows and sometimes it’s really hard to get off the couch when you are enjoying what you’re watching. So all this is happening to kids when they’re watching their screens. The biggest impact really in terms of development is they have a need for real-life interactions and learning so you know every hour that a toddler is watching TV or a preschool is watching TV. That is an hour less that they’re having interacting, to learn language or to learn another from another pre-schooler. It’s an hour less they have on the bike or outside running around. It’s an hour less they have on their own problem-solving, learning to plan their own, learning to wait and all these things. So when we talk about impact of length of screen time, it’s what they’re missing out on it’s not necessarily what the screen is doing to them. But we do know there’s some links to short sightedness and things like that. So there is I guess some physiological changes that are happening, but it’s really the missed opportunities. So when we talk about the impact of screen time, we’re talking about the things that kids are missing out on.

And I guess the other thing to think about too when we talk about screen time, it’s not just about our kids watching the screens, but it’s also thinking about how we’re using screens when we’re around kids because this is an interesting question. What happens to my child’s behaviour when I’m on my screen and I do this like we all do this we have our phones where you know, we’re feeling like we constantly need to connect. And if I get out my screen and my little one’s around instantly they want my attention and often their behaviour is not great because they’re trying to compete for attention and you know research actually has shown that the more time a parent spends on their screen the worse their child’s behaviour is. We have less time to interact and they are having to compete with something to get our attention and usually they use not-so-great behaviour to get what they want. So I guess we’re thinking about that as well. And this is something and I’m thinking about more and more as well is my own screen habits around my phone. Another big one I talk to new moms about is feeding your baby and dads as well, but when you’re feeding your baby, and you’ve got your phone out. Sometimes I think that’s the time you think. Oh great. I’m going to check my facebook. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. I’m going to do all these things . But it’s actually starting to show now in babies that there’s I guess they’re learning less of those facial cues that they would if we weren’t on our screens. So imagine when you’re breastfeeding a baby or you’re bottle feeding a baby. That they are looking at you. And that is the perfect distance usually for. Their focal distance is from your face to their face. And what happens is when parents are looking away and looking at a screen generally they’ve got a very flat face. They’re not showing much emotion and their baby is over here. Really trying to get their attention. They might be smiling and might be trying to do all kinds of things and mum or dad is looking away while they’re feeding. They’re not getting that learning that they would if we weren’t on our phone and that was something that I think I had to really think about when I had my little babies. When I was engaging with screen time. Because that face-to-face time is so valuable in early language development, development of understanding emotions, social reciprocity. And attachment and bonding and things like that and what you see and I observe this. I’m a bit of a people watcher the baby eventually if you don’t look at them. They would have started looking somewhere else because the side of your face is pretty boring. And so then they learn to engage less because you’re not engaging with them as much as well. So I think when I’m talking about setting a challenge for screen time as well. Maybe that would be something you might think a little bit about yourself. So, how am I going to change my screen habits? And see how that has an impact on my child’s behaviour or how much they play with me or how much they talk to me.

Okay, so just really quickly so that you know what the reach research saying about screen time – it’s not great and I think – What we don’t really know is the really long term effects of screen time and kids because this is all relatively new really the last ten years in terms of having smartphones and tablets and you know really really easy access to screen. We certainly don’t know a lot about how screen time has long, long term impacts  But this is some of the stuff that we do know.  So we know what the more a child watches TV, the more likely they are to have language delay.  You know, they’re more likely to have attention problems.  That their problem-solving skills are not going to be as great.  They have less imaginative and creative thought.  Some difficulty interacting with peers and overall general poor academic performance.  And that can be because of their language delay which can then lead to poor academic performance.  But it can also be that we know that the more kids watch TV the worse their sleep is as well. So There’s an increased risk of obesity, vision problems, which I talked a little bit about. Motor coordination difficulty. So the more time again, this is an experience thing. So the more time they’re spending on screens the less time they have  developing those gross motor skills and also their fine motor skills as well as  sleep disturbances  and these are really interesting one for parents as well because  The research is showing that you know a big factor in terms of sleep is  mostly issues around the light that’s emitted from our devices so often and I am guilty of this and  You’re going to bed late. I think I’ll just watch something, read something on my screen and actually that backlit light is sending confusing messages to our brain about what time of the day it is. And it’s not helping us release those sleep hormones that we need and so they recommend that kids and adults shouldn’t have screen time for at least an hour before bedtime.  So, when you talk about screen time being part of your routine.  If it is part of that bedtime routine, it can actually be impacting sleep and quality of sleep.  So that might be something you think about swapping up a bit.  How could you change your bedtime routine to reduce screen time at that time?  So really what I want to say is  we know that the brain is developing immensely rapidly in those first five years of life. And this is why it’s so critical and I’m so passionate about this and screen time  in early language in early development because  90% of your child’s brain growth and  development is happening in the first five years  10% for the rest of your life.  If we are spending or giving kids too much time on screens in those first five years,  we can never get that time back.  The brain will never grow that rapidly again which is why early intervention is so important.  So, you know this story if we change the beginning then we’re going to change the whole story.If we make these  I  guess these  insurances in the early childhood and early development if we keep the rich language learning environments and play and  bonding and all those important things. If we can even reduce screen time a little bit, we’re going to make a huge change to the end of the story and we talk about social interactions academic performance  all those things.  If we make the changes now in those first five years of life. So that is this is why researchers are saying you need to be careful about screen time  And actually that the recommendations are for a child under two, they shouldn’t be watching any screen time at all because their brain is developing  so rapidly.We need to make sure they’re learning and using that time to learn the things they need to learn.

All right, so the other thing I want to say is okay, so kids are going to have some screen time.  But not all screen time is created equal.  So I’m going to show you two very short clips of different screen time examples and then I have a little bit of a chat to you afterwards.

Short video clip of PowerPuff girls followed by Play School.

 All right, so those were two very different examples of screen time both kids TV shows. The first one was the Powerpuff Girls, which I have to admit I’ve heard about but I’ve never really watched and I guess typically it would be for slightly older children but what I want you to think about is kids could be watching that. Well, something might come onto TV, that it looks a bit more like the Powerpuff Girls. The second example, which was play school. So the first example when we’re talking about how rapid screens are changing. You know how kids are kind of  engaged in that but not necessarily learning. So I think in that first example the scenes changed every three seconds  so quite quickly and even for me I was you know, the first time I watched it I was like  Oh, it’s a bit overwhelming. And the second example. The scenes changed every thirteen seconds. It’s a lot less rapidity in changing scenes. Another big difference in those two screen examples was around the content. So the first one is a cartoon. It’s really hard to kind of get an idea of what’s going on even as an adult. There’s weird things coming out here, like a snake with a baby’s head at the end  And something’s jumping out of it, you know and another person is popping out of another thing. The mirrorball comes down with extra lights.  There’s music the whole way through even when they’re talking. So there’s that background noise.  When you go back to the Play School example, there’s a you know, it’s all real people talking about real things.  They’re problem-solving. They’re using materials that might be around the house and what kids might have access to. They’re talking to the child. So they’re directing their conversation to the child or to each other and there’s lots of repetition. So like they countdown the rocket twice, I think three times in that scene, you know, we didn’t watch a little bit. It’s really only the voices. There’s not a lot of music in the background or things like that. So when kids are watching that they are attending to the voices.  So, I guess there’s two examples there. I’m a massive fan of play school. I understand it’s not something that children want to watch forever. But when we’re talking about before five, we’re talking about in those early years when we’re watching, you know when we’re using screen time we really want to be thinking about the quality of what they’re watching and what they might be getting out of it. Okay?  So, how do you feel about that?  That might be a bit of a challenge for you. To think about the shows that your child watches or thinking about other things they watch. Baby shark on YouTube. What are we getting out of that?  Entertainment absolutely, but learning there’s not much learning happening there.

Okay, I think we have talked about how the quality of it is related to these things  We talked about differences in screen scene changes  How relevant is the content to real-life learning?  Another way of making screen time much more beneficial is when you watch it together and you can talk about what you see. Because then you’re also relating the content to real-life examples and things that are happening you know every day so, you know, there might be a picture of a farm or you know they might go to the farm.  You could then talk about how you know, we’re going to talk about how we went to a farm last week. We saw a cow, didn’t we? And we fed the cow and the cow made the milk and you know can make those real connections. That’s going to be improving their learning. 

And I think the other really important thing is that we’re really limiting the amount that kids watch because that’s very important. So, how do we actually do that? What do we do to limit screen time? Well, one of the first things is that we need to model healthy use of screen time. And again, I am guilty of this. My phone is here. Like, you know, I feel like for most of us our phone is always within arm’s reach of us yet  we’re saying to kids, you know, no that’s enough screen time. That’s enough screen time.  Well, we really need to be modelling this and this is something I’m trying to do more and more. Check my phone. That’s fine.  But then put it on silent and put it away.  Because I know that if it’s not on then I won’t hear it. Because if I hear it I’m going to be  much more likely to want to engage in it  and  you know, that’s disruptive for my interactions with my kids.  It’s just interrupting my thought process and it’s also not modelling to them a healthy screen habits.

Having technology free zones in your house is really good. So I would say to parents really avoid having tablets or screens in your child’s bedroom. That should be a technology free. Unplugged family time and this could be another time, you know when talking about routines or “we just have the TV on in the background at dinnertime”, that could be a really good kind of challenge to yourself or challenge your family. Okay. Do we really need the screen on? Dinner time perhaps that will be a time that we have unplugged family time.  And I think just that on that, having the TV on in the background  can be really disruptive to learning language because what we know is that  you know as an adult we’ve learned already how to  discriminate sounds to discriminate someone talking against all that background sound but for kids when you might have a person talking and then  someone talking on the TV, competing in the background, that’s really hard for them to pay attention to you and to listen to what you’re saying.  So I would always say when you’re talking to your kids or you’re interacting, when you’re playing, make sure the TV’s off because it’s just going to be distracting for them.

Make sure you have parental controls on – like for YouTube. This is so important that they can only access the content you want them to access so they’re not accidentally accessing something that’s  violent or inappropriate because we need to protect our kids from these things.

Agree on limits before you start watching. This is something that I have to do with my girls because there’s always the just one more, just one more.  This is my two-year-old. One more time.Only one more and we would watch you know, you would go on and on forever. So I always say we’re going to watch one play school and then it’s all finished and then I have to be consistent. I have to turn it off when I say I’m going to turn it off.  Limit how much they watch I find, you know, if you have ABC Kids on it’s program after program after program.  Just like when you know when we watch TV.  It’s much harder to set an end point for them because they’re like well, I know that’s finished, but I’m now watching something else. YouTube can be a little bit like that, too because yet again they just play one after the other after the other. So I think it’s just really important that you know that you choose one show. It’s really discrete.  Sometimes DVDs are better for this if they have episodes you can watch.  But so that they understand there’s just one and then it’s all done.

I’ve talked about turning off the TV and  the other really important thing is so talk about what you are going to do after screen time.  And when we talked before about getting that dopamine hit when they’re watching TV so it is a bit addictive. We’ve been coming in and saying alright TV off. Turning it off and the tantrums happen.  It happens to me, too. They’re getting that dopamine from you know, then all of a sudden the thing they’ve been enjoying has been taken away and they’re having a crash in their dopamine.  We need to plan something else that might give them a little bit of a similar enjoyment . Maybe not to the same level, but we know that when kids play outside they do get some release of endorphins like when we exercise and when we do things like that. So it might be like, okay that’s finished but now we’re going to go jump on the trampoline or we’re going to play in the sand pit. We’re going to get outside.  Or at least having your plan for what’s going to happen after screen time.  And get extra help when you can. I think if we go back to that question of why do we choose screen time when we know really it’s not great. Why do we choose it?  Sometimes I just need a break. I think every parent  just needs a break sometimes. So sometimes if you’re finding that you’re using it more and more because if you’re like, oh my gosh I just need a break perhaps it’s a sign of like, okay, I need a bit more help here. I need to call in a friend for a favour.  Maybe I can watch their kids and they can watch mine while I have a bit of a break.  Or if your mum or dad live nearby. If there’s anyone that you call on to just give you a bit of a break. Sometimes I think that you know, that’s really important.

Okay, so after all of that, let’s talk about  some alternatives to screen time. So what have we talked about so far?  We talked about screen time being  part of everyone’s life. We talked about why we use it  even though we know it’s not fantastic. A bit about why it’s not great for development. So what are some alternatives and these are things like I said that I use just to limit that amount the amount of screen time my kids have.  And you start to see some really amazing benefits the more and more you do this.

All right, sorry, alternatives ‘when I need to cook dinner’, you know, this is happening every night. What do you do?  What do you do when you just need to get something done? It might be a household chore. You just need to get it done. Okay, first question I always ask myself or I get parents to ask themselves. How could my little one help with what I’m actually doing?  So I think we are so time poor and we are always rushing that sometimes we forget to include our kids. If we just took a moment and we took a little bit longer and it might be a little bit more messy but the benefits to your child’s learning  if we involve them will far outweigh the negatives. So first question. Can they help?  Ella has a little chopping board her own plastic knife. And usually I set her up beside me. She just wants to cut things up. Great, she can cut the veggies up. Certainly mushrooms. Anything soft. She goes at it. Not beautiful. Not perfectly cut, but she’s up there. She’s with me and it usually takes her a long time to do it. So I’m cooking away, while, she’s also involved as well. If you can’t really involve them, what are the busy activities could you give them? I think what you need to keep in mind here is screen time – you know there is going to be less mess. But  the more engaged they are,  the more fun, the more they’re doing, the more mess they’re going to make and  look, I think that’s really important to acknowledge. But I think we need to be okay with that.  I know that when my kids are making mess, they’re usually learning. And that it’s also a good opportunity for them to start to learn to pack up as well. So we make a lot of mess in our house.  But there’s always an expectation at the end that we have to pack away a mess. So, it’s teaching them. It’s teaching my girls to finish things. Yes, you can have fun and you can be creative.  You can do all these things, but when it’s time to finish we need to pack away.  So usually at dinner time I will set them up near me because they want to be near me.  You know they want to be able to see what I’m doing. They are wanting to talk to me and I don’t want to be going in and out the kitchen all the time to find what they’re doing. So I’ll set them up.  I’ll set their table up sometimes in the kitchen or really close to the kitchen.  I might give them play-doh, but they can do some pretend cooking while I do their real cooking.  I have a craft box. That only comes out at very specific times.  So it’s really exciting and you know, there’s lots of things that they can muck about and glue and stick and stickers and all kinds of things in there.  I’ve got some  books like Melissa and Doug ones. I don’t know they’re probably other ones as well, but they’re like water paint pictures so literally it’s got a special brush. You put water in it and they paint it and the picture appears and there’s I spy in the book.  And Ella’s really into that now because you have to find things. They’re hidden in the pictures so again, I reserve these things for times that I know I’m just going to have to get something done.  Fridge magnets is big in our house.  Might be alphabet letters on the fridge or even magnetic things.  We’ve got Maisie and a whole lot of things so they can muck around and be playing on the fridge and they’re right there with you. It’s really, really important if we want our kids to learn to play on their own and to enjoy  being on their own that we check in with them regularly. That we don’t just leave them and leave them and leave them until they come calling for us. That we’re checking in on them and  asking what they’re up to and what this does is it makes you kids think ‘our  Mum’s here when I need her mum will come because she comes anyway. She comes to check-in’ and it helps them go longer and longer periods without needing to check in with you. If they’re constantly checking in with you  They’re going to want to draw you away from what you’re doing, but just a couple of check ins with what they’re doing gives them that kind of sense of security. That hey I’m away from Mum and doing something different, but mum, she’s here. She’s available and she knows what I’m up to.  So make sure you check in regularly. And you can talk if they’re close to you. You can be talking to them while they play and just talk about what you are doing as well. That’s going to be helping their language development.