Early Learning

How screen time affects our child’s development

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Do you wonder how  screen time affects our child’s development? I didn’t think about it until I had my own kids. My nephews were the first grandchildren in the family. I’d let them meddle with my phone and watch videos. I’ve never really thought about how screen time affects their development. I didn’t give it much thought because I never took care of them on my own for even half a day.

My first job after graduating from school, I was a preschool teacher. We had computer time for the kids. It never occurred to me how they already have had enough screen time at home. Until one of the other teachers pointed out that it is way better for them to spend their time in the outdoors.

We eventually got computer time out of the curriculum. And that meant that we had more time for the kids to play freely alhamdulillah. 

If you were to ask almost any child development expert or anyone who knows a little more about child development, their views will mostly be the same. It would be that the less exposure to devices, the better. 

But then again, how much is ‘too much’ exposure? And what type of content is developmentally appropriate for our little ones?


What harm can ‘a little bit of screen time’ do?

(Because I’d rather give them the screen to have some peace of mind)

Let’s face it, giving them the devices is way more convenient than having to deal with them during meal times and car rides, or when they are cranky. So why would we put ourselves into so much trouble. We’d rather have peace because parenting is already hard. Afterall, what harm can ‘a little bit’ of screen time do, right?

Well, I feel you. If we don’t really understand how bad it can be for our kids, it’s only natural to feel that way. 

The truth of that matter is, ‘a little bit of screen time’ does not hold true to most parents who don’t really know its detrimental effects. They’d usually whip out those devices when things get a little inconvenient. And so kids end up spending more time on the devices than what was intended to be. 

So that is why it is essential for us to understand the harmful effects of screen time before we can proactively take small steps towards making better choices for our kids.

This is how screen time affects our child’s development

According to studies, watching too much of certain television shows can affect their learning and social skills, and also their language development.  If you would like some quick notes on how screen time affects our child’s development, I have put it here for easy reference- What does research say about screen time?.

Although it is based on watching television, the effects of watching YouTube videos on phones and iPads may be worse. 

Below are some of the detrimental effects of screen time when it comes to our children’s development.

1- Screen time affects their attention

Paying attention during lessons would be harder when they are too used to the fast-paced animations and the constantly changing motions on screens. Maintaining eye-contact and holding a conversation would also be a challenge. 

2- Screen time affect language development 

It may seem ironic because we think that our kids can learn a lot of new vocabulary from YouTube videos. But studies have shown that the contrary is true. More screen time is linked to lower vocabulary test scores. 

It is not ironic because having a real conversation with a person is way more effective in developing a child’s language. Because it is not only about hearing new words. It is about two-way communication and interaction. And also, seeing how an adult’s mouths move as they pronounce each word is part of learning as their mirror neurons are being fired up. 

It is not uncommon to see children who are exposed to a lot of screen time being unable to pronounce their words clearly. Sure, they can speak (sometimes even big words) but we will often hear them mumbling or slurring the words as they speak because they don’t usually see and actual person speaking when watching videos.

And speaking of using ‘big’ words, they may not even understand the new words from videos they hear because there is usually no one there to explain to them. Well, unless we sit with them of course. Which is not what most of us would do.

3- Screen time affect social skills

More screens means less opportunity to interact with the people around them. When kids are fixated on screens during meal times for example, they miss the opportunity to observe their surroundings, the facial expressions, and the social queues that are happening around them.

4- Poor impulse control

They may also have difficulty regulating themselves because they are too used to the instant gratification given from the constantly changing scenes and moving motions on the screens. Side note; instant gratification is the feeling you get when you are immediately rewarded, or the immediate feeling of satisfaction.

With hand held devices, it is worse because of the immediate effect that they get when they tap the icons on the screen. This makes it a little harder to manage their emotions when things don’t go their way because they are so used to instant gratification. 

Adding salt to the wound, unknowing adults would sometimes give children the devices when they cry. This hinders the opportunity for them to learn to regulate their own emotions. 

When can we expose our child to screens?

Studies have shown that the impact of screens differs for children of different ages. At some periods, children are more sensitive to their cognitive development. As we know, the periods of sensitivity are below the age of 5 where their brains are rapidly developing and absorbing whatever the environment gives them.

Useful guidelines by ‘experts’

Here are some guidelines recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)

For children ages 2 to 5 years

Limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

For children ages 6 and older

Place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.

Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.

Sidenote: I saved these guidelines a few years ago but strangely, the link cannot be found on the original site (link)

Setting the standards high in the Muslim household

As muslims, we have to set the standards high. Our aspirations are high because we want ourselves and our children to be the best Muslims for the sake of Allah. 

I know of parents that refused any form of screen time or devices for their children. Some may feel that this is a little too extreme. They say, “You’re depriving the kids!”

Trust me, their children are not missing out on anything great. Personally, I see this as the ideal situation because the benefits of keeping them away from the devices, especially in this day and age, outweighs its advantages. Not easy, but worth it insya’Allah.

How to set the boundaries with limiting screen time

The next best option is to give our children limited exposure to the devices.

Limiting the duration of screen time

We can limit screen time to as little as 1 hour per day as recommended by the APA, or 1 hour per week. I didn’t think it would be easy but I tried it myself and alhamdulillah it was better than I expected it to be.

The kids followed the rule. They know that screen time is only allowed on certain days of the week. The simple recipe to this success is routine. Children feel secure and will be more likely to cooperate when they know what to expect.

Limiting the content of screen time

There are generally two criteria that I look out for when searching for content to give to my kids. 

The first one is that it must be halal. That means no musical instruments and that it doesn’t contain any content that has values and beliefs that are against our Islamic teachings. 

It may be quite subtle. For example, one cartoon has a dialogue, “I swear in the name of Frank the fire engine, I will….” Swearing by a name other than Allah is forbidden in Islam. It may just be a single line in the show. But knowing kids, they pick up things quite easily.

Apart from that, I also try my best to find videos that are not too fast paced as I do not want my kids to get overstimulated.

Asking Allah for aid

Whatever your choice is when it comes to giving your kids screen time, do what fits your family well. Compare yourself with others only if it will make you work harder to strive to be better. But not to put yourself down, nor look down on others who may not know yet.

Ultimately, success is from Allah and it is only by Allah’s mercy that we are guided in raising our children well.

I found out how screen time affects my child’s development a little too late

Some of us are a little too far gone when it comes to exposing our kids to the devices. Maybe we have already allowed  them to use the devices way too early, or way too excessively.

But now that we know how screen time affects our child’s development, it is never too late. 

It may be hard at first. But insyaAllah, with the help of Allah, we can get our kids off their screens. 

Make small steps and ask Allah to always aid us in raising our kids right. 

What are your struggles when it comes to screen time? Share with us in the comments below.


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