The critical thinking on electronic screen time is changing as our “screens” are becoming more interactive and collaborative. A parent and toddler who sit together on the sofa, look at each other's facial expressions, and articulate their thinking about their touch-screen fun, is likely not what’s imagined when people have traditionally discussed screen time. However, let's now consider, and possibly separate, social screen time from independent screen time for toddlers as we look at appropriate content and exposure.
Autonomous touch-screen play can provide both cognitive and physical engagement for kids ages two and up. However its physicality, language features, and tactile stimulation are limited as compared to real-world activities. Any question of what we add to a toddler’s active day should begin with what they need to be doing in the first place. Right?
It's neither small nor irrelevant to remember that toddlers need to eat, sleep, experiment with moments of autonomy, feel love and family attachments, explore the world around them, and have language exchanges about their experiences. That's a big list!
Determining toddler screen time is a three-fold process:
1. Begin by looking at this list above as crucial to a toddler’s developing neurocircuitry and sense of self.
2. If adding screen time, set a specific time of day (not near bedtime) for 10-15 minutes of social screen time or independent play sessions followed by conversation and real-world investigations.
Research is clear...language counts! A TV screen, touch screen, or airport departure screen with bright flipping numbers can be interesting to a toddler. But to be of value, we should try to provide interpersonal engagement and context for children.