Unscreening: How Screens Affect Child Sleep

Like almost every mom, I’ve had the frustrating experience of trying to do a task or have a conversation with a “busy” toddler by my side. When my daughter was little, tablets and phones weren’t quite so readily available to distract her when I needed to get things done, but I can’t help but think that if they were, I would have used them with wild abandon.

Recent research published in the journal Nature, strongly suggests that as tempting as it is, this should NOT be the distraction strategy of choice.

The study looked at 715 infants and toddlers aged 6 months to 3 years of age. In these kids, sleep quantity decreased as touchscreen use increased–kids took longer to get to sleep and spent less time asleep. In fact, for every additional hour of tablet use the child experienced 15.6 minutes less total sleep.

Sleep Matters

Sleep is important for everyone, but it’s especially critical for children. During sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development. Less sleep can jeopardize these critical activities.

For proper mental and physical development, children need about 12-14 hours sleep.

Unscreening: Entertainment Options in the Real World

So what to do? The best advice is likely to avoid screens altogether for the first two years of life, at least.

If that seems like a terrifying concept, here are some of the things we used to distract and entertain our little one when I was trying to get stuff done:

  1. Low cupboards and drawers filled with things she could safely play with. She would just love to pull all the dish towels out of the cupboards and drape them all over the kitchen. As she got older she could “help” put them away.
  2. A Kleenex box. She would pull every single one out I’d repack it and she would do it again.
  3. A purse or diaper bag. Everything in it would be safe for a toddler’s mouth and depending on how full it was she would play with it for ages.
  4. Boredom. This one took me a bit to figure out. As a parent, I thought it was my responsibility to entertain and stimulate her learning all the time. Eventually, I realized that if I gave her a minute to be bored on her own, she would figure it out and engage herself by herself in ways I could not have figured out for her.

The last one is probably at the heart of all of this. Unscreening isn’t just about one toy versus another. It’s about whether boredom is good for kids, and whether screens have a tendency to steal that essential growth opportunity from them.

If you’ve seen those wondrous moments of pure joy and creativity that arise in kids when they’re exposed to a little boredom, you’ll know exactly what I mean…

 

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