Early Childhood Ireland survey on screen time usage amongst young children shows some worrying trends and lack of guidelines for parents

A new survey (published today Monday 30th November on www.earlychildhoodireland.ie) of 332 parents from around the country regarding screen time and technology use by young children within the home has highlighted some worrying trends, according to Early Childhood Ireland who conducted the survey.  In parallel, Early Childhood Ireland has issued practical tips for parents for managing screen time, especially coming up to the Christmas period.

According to the Early Childhood Ireland screen survey:

  • Technology is now a very normal part of the Irish household with 92% of parents reporting owning a TV, 89% report having access to high-speed broadband, 77% have a tablet and 92% have a smart phone.
  • 66% of parents believe it is OK for a young child to use technology freely.
  • 20% feel that smart phones make parenting easier.
  • 75% of parents believe that technology has educational and other benefits for young children.
  • 72% believe that the purpose of their child watching TV is relaxation.
  • 48% of parents notice a negative change in their child’s behaviour after using technology, describing that behaviour as ‘angry’, ‘moody’, ‘tired’, ‘emotional’, ‘passive’, ‘cranky’, ‘whiney’, ‘disengaged’, ‘less good humoured’, ‘zoned out’, ‘argumentative’, ‘agitated’, ‘challenging’.
  • 85% of children under 2 years of age have been exposed to TV or DVDs.
  • 63% of parents have never received information on the use of media or technology in the home.
  • 57% have never received advice on the amount of time a young child should spend engaged in screen based activities.

According to Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, “There are some worrying trends and contradictions coming through from the survey, with the majority of parents citing relaxation as the purpose of allowing children screen time, while nearly half of them notice a negative change in their child’s behaviour post screen time.  Also the findings that 66% of parents believe it is OK for a young child to use technology freely, with 85% of under 2 year olds watching TV and DVDs show a real disconnect between the guidelines and the reality of screen usage in homes in Ireland.  We recommend that parents should have clear parameters around screen time for young children, especially at bedtime. We would stress that monitoring and moderation and doing as you say are all key to getting the balance right for all the family and in issuing the survey and the guidelines we want to prompt more debate on this.”

In an article on children’s use of technology also published today on https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/childrens-use-of-technology/ Early Childhood Ireland highlights the claims made by Aric Sigman, a leading psychologist who has investigated the consequences of excessive screen time on education, mental development and sleep.  Sigman states that by the age of seven the average child will have spent a full year of 24 hour days watching recreational screen media and over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they spend in school.

Early Childhood Ireland’s tips for managing screen time:

  • We know that a child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years of life, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens. While we don’t have any official guidance in Ireland, we suggest that parents follow the recommendations released by the US Department of Health in 2013 advising that children under two years of age should not be in front of a screen at all.
  • Parents should be aware that children under 2 who watched more television or videos than their peers, have language delays and children younger than one year with heavy television viewing who are watching alone, have a significantly higher chance of having a language delay, according to a study by the American Academy of Paediatrics
  • In children younger than three, television viewing is associated with irregular sleep schedules and poor sleep habits have adverse effects on mood, behaviour and learning.
  • Try not to rely on screens too much to keep children amused. It can be easy to encourage children to pick up the tablet or play a game on the computer to keep them occupied. This only confuses rules on screen time. Try to stick to the agreed rules.
  • Ideally, children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day. Of course, every family is different and parents can decide if these limits are too harsh, and allow some screen time flexibility.
  • To help children make wise choices, parents should monitor their screen ‘diet’ and make use of established ratings systems for shows, films and games to avoid inappropriate content.
  • Families could establish ‘screen-free’ zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner.
  • Communications and boundaries are key and parents/guardians should agree a clear set of rules with their child on screen time in the home and stick to it. Agree times when screens are allowed and not allowed in the home. For example dinner time, homework time and bed time.
  • Modelling behaviour is the most powerful way parents can influence their child’s behaviour. Trying to restrict your own diet of screens at home is important in order to have time in the evenings to read books to your child and to talk about their day.
  • Chat to your child about what they do online and encourage them to use their screen time for learning, education and fun.
  • Pick one evening a week where you do a family activity together, whether it is a film night or a games night. Doing activities together as a family will help implement screen time guidelines and offer fun alternatives.
  • Don’t have screens always on in the background. Turn off TVs and computers when not in use. These can be distracting for children if they are trying to participate in another activity.
  • It’s not all bad.  Emerging research from early childhood experts tells us that using technology sensibly can be effective in terms of engaging and empowering young children. When screen time is carefully monitored and quality content is viewed, it can be beneficial for children over 3 years of age.
  • Furthermore, in terms of computer use, research tells us that children may benefit from appropriately selected software.
  • Finally, join in, why not set some time aside to play your child’s favourite computer game and discover the online world together.