Children’s Mental Health

Did you know young children can struggle with mental health? 

Often, a child’s way to show they are struggling is to act out.  Time and again, these behaviors are misunderstood and viewed as “bad behaviors” or “bad parenting” especially if the child cannot speak yet or has no words to express what they’re feeling.  Technology has become one way to “help” calm these behaviors.  As a lot of parent/caregivers have discovered, when technology comes on, children are drawn to it. However, real-life learning opportunities are key to building social skills and emotional regulation.

Technology’s Impact on Children

Unhealthy technology use can disrupt a child’s typical developmental. The risk for children under the age of 6 is magnified due to the rapid brain growth and skill development happening during this period. According to researchers at the Center on Developing Child at Harvard University, more than one million new neural connections form every second during the first few years of life. Children need a variety of experiences to learn how to be social thinkers, handle stressful and upsetting situations, and to build resiliency.

A child’s ability to learn new things, be calm, pay attention, remember details, learn to talk, and regulate emotions is hindered by background television.  The shocking fact is children under 3 are being exposed to an average of 5.5 hours of background television per day. That’s 40% of a child’s waking life!

Excessive, unmonitored screen time can damage mental health and can have lasting effects, such as:

  • *unseen damage to brain development = cognitive delays, psychosocial delays
  • *less activity and movement = physical or motor delays, obesity, trouble sleeping
  • *fewer words spoken in home = language delays
  • *fewer interactions = social-emotional delays, difficulty forming relationships

Too much screen time is like too much sugar. A little bit can make life sweeter, but too much can rot your teeth and ruin your health. It’s about finding a healthy balance.

So How Much Is Too Much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) recommends:

  • *NO screen time exposure for infants and toddlers, with the only exception being connecting with loved ones on a screen.
  • *For children ages 2-5 years up to one hour a day of high-quality screen time.

The APA also recommends not using screen time to care for or supervise a young child and to only co-view television alongside young children to support their understanding. Interactive and mindful use screen time can have a positive impact.

What Can We Do?

It’s about finding the balance.  Parents and caregivers can promote a healthier living and manage screen time by following these simple strategies to DISCONNECT TO CONNECT:

  • *Maintain daily screen-free times: mealtime, bath time and bedtime.
  • *Create Safe Spaces for Independent Play: Have books available and include toys such as a mirror, dolls, cars, stuffed animals, musical instruments, or an empty container filled with brushes, plastic containers with lids, plastic cups, and plates.
  • *Play, Interact, and Communicate together: Inside games like hide & seek, roll a ball, build a fort, obstacle course with couch cushions, listen to music and dance. Get outside! Run, play, walk, swing, blow bubbles, go to the park, and play “Ring around the Rosie” or “Duck-Duck-Goose”.
  • *Avoid background television: Too quiet? Try music instead.
  • *Be consistent with technology limits: For example, one half hour of screen time in the morning/evening
  • *Be intentional: Choose educational shows and games that are on your child’s level.

Interested in doing more? Try creating a Family Media Plan: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx

ACT EARLY!

Contact Ohio Early Intervention at ohioearlyintervention.org or call l-800-755-4769.

Email Pam Hamer at [email protected] or call (937) 824-0828.Resources: Zero To Three, American Academy of Pediatrics, Common Sense, Center on the Developing Child Harvard University

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Words by Pam Hamer and Grace Schoessow

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