Auburn Therapy and Learning Center recently shared an article on Facebook about one of the many
alarming effects of too much screen time on children. ‘Virtual Autism’, a phenomenon observed by Romanian clinical psychologist Dr. Marius Zamfir, refers to autism caused by spending too much time in front of screens, from TVs to tablets to smartphones. They found that it could be cured by reducing or eliminating screen time! As of this writing, the post has been shared over 200 times. As speech language pathologists and occupational therapists that work daily with kids diagnosed with autism, this article certainly caught our attention, too!
Screens have become an integral and vital part of our work, educational and personal lives. More and more,
our faces are buried in them. I just counted 10 screens in my house. 10! One TV, 4 laptops, one tablet, 2 smartphones and 2 smart watches. That’s a lot of screens! My house is what the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC said in 2017 is “hyperconnected”, with 10 or more media devices. The typical household had at least 5 such devices in 2017, and I bet that number has grown since then. Given that many devices, it’s inevitable that children will be exposed to screen time. Various studies have shown, though, that too much screen time can lead to sleep difficulties, obesity, attention problems, eye strain, head and neck problems, depression and headaches. Studies have also shown that too much screen time can lead to communication, social, attention and sensory difficulties. Limits have got to be set! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 18 months be limited to video chats only. If you want to introduce your 18-24 month-old to screen time, chose only high-quality programming that you watch with them. A 2-5 year-old should be limited to 1 hour of high-quality programs. According to CommonSenseMedia.org, however, children 0-8 spend an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes per day looking at screens. Wait a second! What? Children 0 years old? Yep, you read that right! Babies are getting screen time. Parents are exposing their babies to videos and apps on their cell phones, tablets and laptops in addition to time spent watching TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 92.2% of 1-year-olds have used a mobile device, with some of them being as young as 4 months!
I’m a Mom and I know how hard it can be. Parents often find themselves without a spare moment to themselves with infants and young children around, especially once they become mobile. I remember when my own son became mobile. I couldn’t walk to the kitchen without being pursued. I couldn’t take a shower for fear he would get into something he shouldn’t. He wasn’t happy in his bouncy seat on the floor anymore. He sure as heck didn’t want to be pushed around in the stroller anymore. “Let me out! Put me down!” was the loud and clear message he sent with his constant squirming and fussing when we went to the grocery store. If there were smartphones back in 1991, I’m certain I would have stuck one in his cute, chubby little hands so he could entertain himself while I shopped. Given what I now know about infants and brain development, I’m grateful they weren’t around then!
A baby’s brain is a miraculous work in progress. Having been born with a lifetime supply of neurons, the infant brain triples in weight in the first two years of life by making connections, called synapses, between those neurons. These synapses help us see, move, learn, talk and connect with others. Once these synapses form, they can be strengthened by continued stimulation or weakened by nonuse. Starting at about 2 years old, the brain actually begins pruning the synapses that are not being used! It is, quite literally, a “use it or lose it” scenario! Knowing this, the thought of an infant or young child being exposed to so much screen time is truly frightening! Do we really want so many of the synapses of that 4 month-old to be formed while staring at that screen? And what about the connections he’s not making while staring at that screen? He can’t make sense of the colors and movement he’s staring at on that screen. He’s not moving and making connections that will eventually help him take his first step. He’s not learning by exploring his toys through taste and touch. He’s not learning just how powerful language is because the screen doesn’t talk back to him when he coos and laughs. He’s not making human connections because he is not seeing YOU!
YOU should be in charge of the stimulation needed to form those synapses and keep them from being cut! My advice to you is to get that screen out of his cute, chubby little hands and make time for IN YOUR FACE TIME.
Literally, get in your child’s face! Help them see your face and how it smiles when your eyes meet. Help them see your face when it lights up at the slightest little sound they make. It’s their interactions with people and involvement in all the activities around them that will help him make the synapses that truly count. In your face time needs to happen with kids of all ages! Get in your toddler’s face and play and read. Don’t forget about tweens and teens that are also spending hours in front of screens playing video games! We’ve seen older kids in our office that are showing poor eye contact, language difficulties and limited social skills with no desire to hang out with their peers. Get in your tween’s and teen’s face, too, and talk about their day.
Auburn Therapy and Learning Center recommends that you replace screen time with IN YOUR FACE TIME! We know it’s going to be hard, but our therapists can help you figure out how to do that. If you think your child is showing communication, social, attention or sensory difficulties, regardless of the reason why, give us a call today.