Screentime Instead of Feelings; The Implications of Screens During Routine Tasks

Screentime Instead of Feelings; The Implications of Screens During Routine Tasks

Conversations about screen time are usually lead with the topic of how much is too much. Standards are offered that place some specific time frame as the optimal amount of screens a young child should be exposed to in a day.

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests no screentime under age 2 and 1 hour of screen use maximum per day for ages 2-5

  • Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines suggests that at 0-18 months, avoid screentime except for video calling. At age 2-5 years one hour per day and only high quality shows. At age 5-17 years: less than two hours per day

While these recommendations are backed up by many studies into the implications of screen time on developing bodies and minds, such recommendations don’t always consider the when of screen time.

In this study, researchers examined when screens are used most amongst a childhood group aged between 1 – 3 years. Specifically, they examined when and how often screens were being used during different routine tasks that are fairly universal events, this included tasks such as mealtimes, playtime, bedtime toileting and getting dressed.

They found that over 97% of participants used a screen during at least routine task, and while this was perhaps understandably most common during playtime, a further 54% completed 5 or more daily routine tasks in the presence of screens. The most common routine tasks that were completed alongside screens included mealtimes, sleep times, waking up and getting dressed.

Alongside this element of the study was an association between screen use with a screen, and the child’s social-emotional development. Children who were more at risk for a social-emtional delay, also often used a screen during routine tasks, at times these children were often exposed to multiple screen types at the same time (for example a TV playing while using a tablet).

Ultimately they found that who a screen was used during 5 or more routine tasks, that child was 5.8 times more likely to be at risk for a social-emotional delay.

Why could this be?

Presence and attentive cargegiving during routine tasks is an optimal time to strengthen a secure attachment relationship and establish trust. Screen use during these times may serve the short-term goal of distracting the child in order to get the task completed as quickly and as easily as possible. However the longer term, potential implications lie in the small moments of missed opportunity for crying and feelings to be heard and accepted and rich conversations to be held between carer and child; ultimately serving as an interference to a natural, social-emotional skill building process that otherwise occurs.

What’s missing in this picture?

The study did not explore the resources and support of the parents. This is vital to any discussion about screen time.

Screens are a tool that, when used intentionally, can add value and serve purpose in our daily lives. Failure to consider parental mental health, social support and other factors, is a failure to consider the holistic picture needed to establish appropriate boundaries around screen use for any unique family.

This study serves as an insight into the implications of using screens in place of holding space for feelings or building authentic relationships with children founded on trust and care.

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