Striking digital balance: The Impact Technology has on a Child’s Cognitive Development | Celebree School

Striking digital balance: The Impact Technology has on a Child’s Cognitive Development

As a parent, you want the best for your child. In today’s digital age, however, ensuring a healthy upbringing for our little ones involves navigating through numerous challenges, with one of the most pressing being screen time. Technology with children has become a double-edged sword, offering educational and entertainment opportunities, yet potentially damaging to our child’s mental, physical, and emotional growth. So, when should the line for screen time be drawn? In this article, we’ll explore the effects that screen time can have on development during early childhood and uncover how to strike a healthy balance. 


Understanding Early Childhood Development and Technology

Before we delve into the impacts of excessive screen time, let’s paint a holistic picture of early childhood development. From birth to the age of five, children’s brains are developing at an astronomical rate. They are like little sponges, soaking in information and experiences that lay the foundation for academic, motor, cognitive, and socio-emotional skills. It’s these formative years that make them who they are and dictate who they will become.

Introducing technology into this fragile developmental eco-system is akin to planting a stubborn weed amidst tender saplings. While some digital content is crafted for educational enhancement, the uncontrolled proliferation of screens can impede the natural growth process of vital skills in these early years.

 But, in 2024, it is almost unrealistic to remove all technology from a child’s daily life, and that goes for any age. As reported by CNN, children spend an average of one to four hours a day in front of a device, and that number is only growing. However, excessive screen time during formative years can lead to long-term delays or irregularities in cognitive, physical, and social developmental by the time they reach age five. So, as technology becomes more ingrained in a child’s daily existence, the question for parents becomes not just ‘how much?’, but ‘at what cost?’


Effects on Cognitive, Social, and Physical Development

Understanding the cognitive impacts of excessive screen time on a child’s cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional development is crucial. In the cognitive sphere, studies indicate disruptions in attention span, learning abilities, and sleep quality due to screen exposure, affecting mental acuity. Additionally, sedentary lifestyles associated with excessive screentime pose risks to physical development, including vision and posture concerns. Notably, screens can hinder authentic interaction and contribute to heightened anxiety and depression, impacting emotional and social growth. Understanding the nuanced impacts of screen time is essential for nurturing holistic child well-being.


Effects on Cognitive Development

Cognition is at the heart of a child’s ability to learn and comprehend the world around them. Studies have found that excessive screen time can disrupt these essential mental gears. Here are the areas most commonly affected:

Impact on Attention Span and Learning Abilities

Shortened attention spans and reduced focus on tasks have been linked to increased screen time among children. The medium’s rapid change in storytelling and content, combined with the instant gratification it offers, can rewire children’s brains for shorter, more fragmented attention cycles, negatively impacting their reading and problem-solving abilities.

Impaired Sleep Quality

Unrestrained screen time before bedtime can cause a disruption in sleep patterns and quality. Interference can make it difficult for them to fall asleep and reduce the overall duration of their sleep, impacting their cognitive functioning. It is essential for parents to incorporate screen-free routines before bed to promote better sleep and support the child’s well-being.  

Delayed Language and Social Skills

Language acquisition and social interaction are some of the organic developments you witness in early childhood. Screen time, often occurring in isolation, hinders the learning of these critical skills. The two-dimensional conversation of a child with a screen cannot replace the richness of a real-world interaction, leading to delays in speech, vocabulary, and overall social adeptness.


Effects on Physical Development

The cavalry of concerns extends beyond the cerebral domain; physical development takes a hit under the siege of excessive screen time.

Sedentary Lifestyle and Reduced Physical Activity

The obtrusive habit of prolonged periods in front of screens contributes to a sedentary lifestyle epidemic among children. Decreased physical activity not only leads to obesity and related health issues later in life but also inhibits the fundamental motor skill development essential for a body that is agile and coordinated.

Potential Impact on Vision and Posture

“Sit up straight” and “don’t watch too closely; you’ll hurt your eyes” are parental refrains often associated with reading. Ironically, they should now accompany screen time activities, too, as children’s posture and vision are at risk from poor ergonomics and the near-field viewing that screens promote.


Effects on Emotional and Social Development

In the digital landscape, social and emotional terrains are equally marked by pitfalls for young explorers. Let’s uncover the treacherous terrain.

Impaired Social Interaction and Communication Skills

A characteristically static and solitary engagement with screens impedes a child’s ability to hone their social interaction and communication skills. Smiles, frowns, group dynamics, and non-verbal cues witnessed during in-person interactions, critical ingredients for building emotional intelligence, can be absent from the screen, leaving emotional growth stunted.

Increased Risk of Anxiety and Depression

Technology’s ever-presence can also contribute to heightened stress and even clinical anxiety and depression in young children. The comparison with curated and often idealized lives visible on social media can sow seeds of insecurity, unrealistic aspirations, and loneliness in the tender fields of their psyche.


Strategies for Responsible Screen Time

Setting and enforcing strict rules about when and how much a child can use screens is the first step. Designating certain times and places in the home as ‘no screen zones’ can reduce the omnipresence of digital media.

Balance can be restored by encouraging outdoor play or alternative activities that stimulate the mind and body. Outdoor play helps to develop and refine fine motor skills, including hand-eye coordination, balance, and range of motion – all skills that cannot be practiced while using a screen. Outdoor activities offer endless opportunities for exploration and active play

During approved screen-time, prioritizing quality digital content is key. Some childrens’ shows, while captivating can also be overstimulating to children. For shows like “Cocomelon”, the fast-paced sequences and bright colors can interfere with developmental functions such as a child’s attention span. Opt for entertainment options like “Bluey,” which emphasizes creativity, play, and family bonding, while supporting healthy development and positive values.  

Today’s parents must model healthy screen time behavior and exhibit good habits themselves. After all, you are your child’s first teacher, and children learn not just from what we say, but primarily from what we do. Parents could demonstrate by establishing clear screen time boundaries, prioritizing face-to-face interactions, and actively engaging in screen-free activities like creative projects or outdoor activities. By embracing and enforcing these tactics, parents can help to protect their children’s early years from the less desirable effects of excessive screen time.

Observing mood changes and behaviors in your child related to screen time is crucial. Be attentive to any shifts before, during, or after screen time usage. Be aware of negative indicators such as frustration or agitation, and positive indicators like curiosity and engagement. 

Lastly, staying informed with current research and guidelines regarding screen time is important for your child’s development. Adjust your approach to screen time based on observations of your child’s behavior and the latest research studies.