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Consider this: Nearly half of all children 8 and under have their own tablet device and spend an average of about 2.

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Jennifer F. Interacting almost exclusively with screens would be like working out only your arm muscles and nothing else. You would have really strong arm muscles, but at the expense of overall fitness. Health Matters spoke with Dr. We know that kids have easy access to screens, now more than ever. But how do screens affect early childhood development? For young children, especially those under the age of 3, development is happening rapidly.

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Young children learn by exploring their environment and watching the adults in their lives and then imitating them. When I see children walking with a parent or being pushed in a stroller, they are often playing on a smartphone or a tablet and not paying attention to anything else around them. This will not just affect their ability to learn new things, but also how they interact with others and how language develops.

What does too much screen time do to children’s brains?

Studies have shown that children under 2 learn less from a video than when learning from another person, and it appears that although children will watch the TV screen by 6 months, understanding the content does not generally occur until after age 2. There is also some evidence that children who watch a lot of television during the early elementary school years perform less well on reading tests and may show deficits in attention.

Tell us more about how screen time affects language and communication.

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Research shows that talking with children in a reciprocal dialogue is extremely important for language development and social interaction. What age is appropriate to introduce screens? The American Academy of Pediatrics AAP recommends avoiding screens for children younger than 18 to 24 months, except when video chatting with family. The AAP also recommends limiting screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just one hour a day of high-quality programming think Sesame Street or PBS. When something needs to get done around the house, it can be helpful to have a young child otherwise engaged and entertained.

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Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them. As humans, our circadian rhythms and our production of melatonin — the sleep hormone — kicks in when the sun sets. But the blue light from screens inhibits melatonin, which can delay sleep. And watching TV or playing games also keeps our brains and bodies more alert and activated and less ready for sleep.

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Tablets and smartphones will suppress the melatonin more than TVs because the screen, and that blue light, is closer to the face. According to one studyinfants 6 to 12 months old who were exposed to screens in the evening showed ificantly shorter nighttime sleep than those who had no evening screen exposure. For preteens and teenagers, excessive use of screens late at night will affect their sleep, and keeping screens out of the bedroom is advised.

Too much time spent on social media as well as lack of sleep can affect behavior and cognitive performance in school and interfere with learning.

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It has also been shown that excessive screen time and sleep deprivation are linked to obesity, which in turn can affect self-esteem and lead to social isolation and more screen time. How addictive can digital screens be for young kids? They are also so portable and ubiquitous that we cannot manage without them. We should also be careful of relying on using screens to distract from a problem rather than having them figure it out and learn to resolve it themselves. Using a favorite song to distract a young child who has just fallen and scraped their knee might be OK, but having the parent comfort and cuddle with the child and talk to them is better.

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Using screen time to distract young children who are having trouble sharing a toy will not help them learn how to share and take turns in the future, although it may be a quick fix in the short term. Are some screens worse than others?

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You can take them anywhere and use them at any time. I believe YouTube is generally bad for young children. If left to their own devices, children are often better than their parents at finding their favorite videos that link to other videos and can lead to hours of watching endless clips.

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The largely unregulated nature of the site allows children to watch almost anything; at best there is little educational value, and at worst it can be violent or inappropriate content. Again, the best course of action is to watch with the child so the parent is engaged in finding content that is appropriate and educational.

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Co-watch whenever possible. Comment on things you notice, ask questions about what is happening, if someone on a show is singing a song, sing along with your .

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Choose media wisely. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games, and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children. Keep bedtime, mealtime, and family time screen-free. Balancing online and offline time is extremely important. Limit your own phone use.

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Kids will do what they see their parents doing. At a young age, their parent s is the most important person in their life, so they will model whatever behavior they are seeing. Emphasize the big three: sleep, healthy nutrition, and exercise.

All three are essential to optimal brain growth and development and health and wellness for children and adults alike.

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And excessive screen time can impact all three. Children who spend more time in front of screens have been shown to eat more fast food and less fruits and vegetables and get less sleep and exercise. Therefore, it is very important to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices as part of the daily routine, as well as limiting screen time.

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See tips on how to develop a Family Media Use Plan. Cross, M. An expert in the diagnosis and management of children with developmental disabilities, Dr. Cross is board-certified in developmental and behavioral pediatrics. Find a Doctor or call Subscribe to receive the Health Matters monthly newsletter of curated stories about science, care, and wellness delivered straight to your inbox.

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Check out our Newsletter. Jennifer Cross.

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What tips do you have for parents to limit screen time for kids? Consult An Expert Find a Doctor or call Want more stories like this?

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