Early Childhood Developement and Screen Time

As anyone who follows the Montessori educational model will agree: Children are creatures of pure imagination and play. At Kaban Montessori School in Mississauga, we ensure that we create an environment to foster growth, independence, and imagination.  Curious minds can see the world without leaving the safety of the room. With the flexibility to let their curiosity guide them, children can learn on their own if their minds are allowed to roam. Yet, with the rise of co-dependency on technology, children are becoming less and less aware of their imaginative powers and potentially receiving negative influences from too much screen time.

While there are indeed some advantages to technology, such as educational apps and TV shows on demand, the sheer volume of troubling side effects outweighs the benefits. Here is a look at how screen time impacts early childhood development:

The Dangers of Screen Time

Kids these days are growing up with an electronic device in their hand, whether they want to hold onto it or not. From infancy to adulthood, kids are in front of computers, televisions, tablets, gaming consoles, and smartphones. Unfortunately, while the endless stream of media undoubtedly keeps kids quiet and entertained, there has been emerging research suggesting excessive screen time hinders socialization, concentration, communication, and even creativity.

A psychologist from the British Psychological Society and a member of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine, Dr. Aric Sigman, also suggests that technology impedes the development of the very abilities that parents should be aiming to teach their children. Things like the ability to concentrate, to interact successfully with other individuals, to have empathy and compassion, as well as building a large, expressive vocabulary are all affected by too much screen time.

In other words, between the ages of birth to 3 years old, a child’s brain is rapidly developing and taking in all kinds of influences from the world around them. If a 2-year-old is handed a cell phone and told to play, this critical period where the brain needs stimuli to grow neural pathways is stunted.

Yes, technology has a host of intrinsic stimuli—but it’s not the kind of stimuli a growing child needs.

Instant Gratification

Having your baby swipe at the touchscreen is cute, but it is teaching the young mind a dangerous lesson. The power of the fingertips against a responsive screen is leading your baby to believe that every action has an immediate effect.

This is true with a phone or tablet but nowhere else. So every time your child is rewarded with bright colors and sounds on the phone’s screen, the brain releases dopamine—the neurotransmitter associated with addiction. Thus, the child begins to find pleasure in the instant gratification provided by the phone over the development of connections in the real world, which sometimes take years to truly blossom.

Obviously, this kind of thought pattern could potentially harm the child later on in life, when they are given the chance to try another substance, such as drugs and alcohol, that leads to the same “instant gratification.”

screen time boys.jpeg

Less exposure to screens

is good for development.












Other Known Effects of Too Much Screen Time

In 2014, the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) found that sixth graders who spent too much time with technology actually had trouble recognizing human emotion.

Another study in 2014 that was published in the Sleep Medicine Review-Journal noted consistent evidence that shows sleep was disrupted by screen time. Not only does the light from smartphone and tablet screens trick the brain, the use of technology before bed actually leads to delays in the time kids and adolescents go to sleep. In turn, the body’s natural circadian rhythm is thrown off. Without an appropriate amount of sleep, children and adolescents will have trouble concentrating and show increased levels of stress.

Lastly, one of the most recent studies to take place came out of the University of Alberta in Canada in 2015. The conclusion of the research stated that “the more physical activity children do, the better [their] cognitive development.” The assistant professor of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta, Valerie Carson, sat for an interview with the Edmonton Sun newspaper to talk about the findings. “The more time [children] spend on screens, like tablets and cell phones,” says Carson, “[it] tends to be either detrimentally related to their development or not related at all.”

The researchers did find, though, that if parents are willing to spend a bit more time interacting with their children and allowing them to play and experience the world physically, the effects of too much screen time could be negated.

Final Thoughts

Children need to be allowed to move and use their imaginations in order to grow into successful, expressive adults. While there are many advantages to technology, there are much more fulfilling ways to educate children. A more balanced approach to screen time can help lessen the negative effects of technology while permitting children to explore the world as they are meant to. To that effect, we ensure that we do not expose children to any screen time our during the day or in our Afterschool Program. Prioritize healthy sleeping habits, face-to-face communication, and outdoor play above all else and help your child reach their potential!