Children’s Technology Use: Perspectives from a Play Therapist

Kids and Screens

As parents we are most often looking for the best for our children.  We want them to grow up to be strong, independent and productive members of society. Often, we will express a desire for our children to be happy. In that vein while they are growing, we are often looking for ways to make our children happy. One of those avenues in this modern-day world is to provide our child with a screen to keep them occupied, “happy,” maybe even to help them learn. Educational and positive videos and games abound and many times as parents we feel we are providing our child with needed academic or social instruction through the venue of games and videos. And who can fault a parent for wanting just 5 minutes of quiet?

Are You Following the Screen Time Recommendations?

No doubt it can be frustrating and confusing and leave us feeling inadequate and worried that we aren’t doing the best for our child when it comes to screen time. One tool we can use to help make screen time decisions is to follow recommendations by The American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Media and Screen Time Planning Tool

Another tool that can be helpful is to utilize the Family Media Plan tool at Here families can develop a Media Plan to assist with using media and screens appropriately and in healthy amounts of time. This is also suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a way to manage your entire family’s use of screens.

What’s the Big Deal About Screen Time?

One may be asking, “What’s the big deal” and “why does it matter?”  Interestingly it seems it may matter quite a lot.  A recent study by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center assessed screen time in terms of the above-mentioned recommendations.  The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, shows that children who have more screen time have lower structural integrity of white matter tracts in parts of the brain that support language and other emergent literacy skills. These skills include imagery and executive function — the process involving mental control and self-regulation. These children also have lower scores on language and literacy measures.  As stated in the article:

“This study raises questions as to whether at least some aspects of screen-based media use in early childhood may provide sub-optimal stimulation during this rapid, formative state of brain development,” says John Hutton, MD, director of the, Reading & Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study. “While we can’t yet determine whether screen time causes these structural changes or implies long-term neurodevelopmental risks, these findings warrant further study to understand what they mean and how to set appropriate limits on technology use.”

With this emerging research and the solid recommendations from The American Academy of Pediatrics it seems fair to at least consider the impact that screen time is having on our children’s development and social interactive abilities as well as family functioning. The act of composing a media plan can begin the discussion of where, and when, and how much media and screens are being used among your family members.  It could encourage even small changes and increase your closeness and functioning as a family.

Being intentional about your child’s screen time could bring about that strong, independent, and productive member of society that we mentioned at the beginning of this article… in a way that you hadn’t imagined!


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