How screen time may be impacting children's development

How screen time may be impacting children's development

These are my thoughts only - we definitely need more research in this area!


The Impact of Screen Time on Toddlers: Visual Tracking, Play Skills, Spatial Awareness, Balance, and Facial Expressions

In today's digital age, screen time is a significant part of many families' lives, including those with young children. While technology offers educational opportunities and entertainment, excessive screen time can have various impacts on toddlers' development, particularly affecting their visual tracking, play skills, spatial awareness, balance, and facial expressions.

In my experience observing children's development over the last 10 years, I am seeing particular concerns in these areas since screen.

1. Visual Tracking

Visual tracking involves the ability to smoothly follow moving objects with one's eyes, a crucial skill for reading and hand-eye coordination later in life. For toddlers, excessive screen time can lead to issues in this area. Screens generally provide fast-moving, high-intensity visuals that do not require the broad range of eye movements necessary in the real world. This can lead to underdeveloped visual tracking skills, as children are not practicing tracking slower, less predictable movements found outside of digital animations.

2. Play Skills

Play is the work of childhood, allowing toddlers to build creativity, problem-solving skills, and social understanding. Physical play encourages children to explore and manipulate their environment, learning through tactile feedback and real-world physics. Screen time, however, often involves passive engagement, where toddlers are more likely to consume content rather than interact with it actively. This can limit their opportunities to develop imaginative and physical play skills, which are crucial for overall cognitive and physical development.

3. Spatial Awareness

Spatial awareness — the understanding of oneself in space and the relationship between objects in the environment — is primarily developed through interaction with the physical world. Toddlers learn to gauge distances, navigate obstacles, and manipulate objects through active play. High amounts of screen time can impede these learning opportunities. Virtual environments do not provide the same sensory feedback as the physical world, which can slow the development of spatial reasoning and awareness.

4. Balance

Balance is a skill that significantly benefits from physical activity. It requires constant practice and is developed through activities like walking, climbing, and other movements that challenge the body's ability to maintain equilibrium. Excessive screen time can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, even in very young children, reducing opportunities to develop balance through active, physical engagement. This can delay milestones in physical development and has implications for later physical and athletic abilities.

5. Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are a primary means of communication and are learned through social interaction. For toddlers, observing and mimicking the facial expressions of others helps them understand and express emotions. Screen time can limit these interactions, as the expressions on screens often do not replicate the nuanced, responsive expressions seen in real-life human interactions. This can affect toddlers' ability to read and express emotions appropriately, impacting their social skills and emotional intelligence.

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