Most parents by now know that screen time among young children should be limited, but the reasons behind this move are varied and the consequences aren’t always clear.
Well, now there’s yet another reason to dial back on how much time your children are spending on screens, particularly playing on iPads.
A new preliminary study from physiotherapy professor Leon Straker at Curtain University in Perth has suggested that kids aged three and four who spent more time on iPads then they did playing with conventional toys could see their muscles and bones less developed than their peers.
The initial results showed that kids who played with traditional toys moved their upper limbs as much as six times more than when watching a television, and three times more than when using an iPad. Kids who played with traditional toys also moved their entire body twice as much as they did when playing on an iPad, and three times as much as they did while watching television.
Now, Professor Straker will be undertaking a five-year study to look further into these results, testing just how much of a difference an iPad or television habit might have on a small child. However, he feels confident that the extended test will confirm what he already believes.
“We are concerned that the very enticing touch screen devices will lead to children’s muscles and bones not developing well for two reasons,” he said. “One, they may spend more time sitting rather than running around and playing and miss the stimulus this provides to build strong muscles and bones and two, they may spend more time in a poor neck posture with little neck movement which may make them more vulnerable to neck pain.”
How Much Time Is OK?
Parents are often overwhelmed by the stark gap between official screen time guidelines for young children, and the realities of raising kids in a digital age. For example, in Australia, the official guidelines from the Australian Department of Heath recommend that kids under two have absolutely no screen time at all, and kids from 2-5 have no more than one hour of using screens a day. Between the ages of 5-17, the official report says that screen time should be limited to less than two hours a day, with educational screen time not being included.
These guidelines are hardly the same the world over. In the United Kingdom, there are no upper limits on screen time for children, while in America children under three are recommended to have no screen time at all.
Balance Is Key
If the official guidelines are confusing, remember that balance between screen time and active playtime, particularly outdoors, is very important. While it might be impossible to ensure that children spend no time, or less than one or two hours, on screens in our technology-saturated world, it is important that they spend an equal amount of time, if not more time, outside using their bodies in active play.
Also important is time spent learning of off screens, such as reading and physical skills.