Children, screens, and development: do technologies harm their growth?

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Children and screens will be a recurring theme for some time to come, or so it seems.

In the digital age we live in, screens have become a constant presence in our lives. From mobile phones to tablets to computers, these technologies are here to stay and we all use them for everything from work to entertainment. However, for children, overexposure or inappropriate use of screens can have a negative impact on their development.

Although there are results in both directions in scientific studies, the truth is that it is difficult to take care of the variables and situations that make screens positive, so the general guidelines are that less exposure to screens for children under 5 years old (and caution should continue thereafter, adults included), the better. Also, one of the biggest problems is no longer what screens do, but what children stop doing while they are prostrate watching those screens. They stop interacting with their environment, they stop having social relationships from which they learn to communicate, they stop moving, with how important movement is in cognitive and physical development, and they leave concentration to something external when ideally they should be motivated internally.

Picture: Marvin Meyer in Unsplash

Excessive use or early exposure to screens is associated with poor attention, lack of behavioral control, language delay, and deficits in executive function. Excessive screen use has also been reported to produce neuroanatomical changes related to reduced empathy and poor impulse control and emotional processing (1). In slightly less technical words:

Limited cognitive development:

Excessive screen use in young children can affect their cognitive development. Studies have shown that children’s brains need real, concrete experiences to develop properly. Screen time limits real-world learning opportunities, which can negatively affect their ability to problem-solve, exercise creativity and develop motor skills.

Delayed language development:
Prolonged exposure to screens can delay language development in children. During the first years of life, children learn primarily through social interaction and human contact. Excessive screen use can limit these interactions, affecting language acquisition and hindering the development of effective communication skills.

Attention and concentration problems:
Excessive screen use can contribute to attention and concentration problems in children. The visual and auditory overstimulation provided by electronic devices can make it difficult for children to maintain attention on tasks that require mental effort. In addition, the constant availability of fast and changing content can create an expectation of instant gratification, making it difficult for children to develop patience and the ability to wait.

Impact on socio-emotional development:
Face-to-face interaction with other individuals is crucial for children’s socio-emotional development. Screens, by replacing these interactions with virtual relationships, can limit empathy skills, understanding of emotions, and the ability to establish healthy relationships. In addition, access to inappropriate or violent content on screens can negatively affect children’s mental and emotional health.

It is also important to highlight the addictive side of screens. In most cases, apps are created to keep us on them for as long as possible in order to invade us with advertising. If we look at our navel a little, we might even detect an excess of their use on our part. But the fact that this is already a problem at an early age is food for thought. Since in reality, the massive invasion of technology and digital native children are “relatively recent”, it will not be until a few years from now that we will see its impact in the long term.

If, in the end, it is necessary for a “bad mother” or “bad father”, for a mental break, to have a conversation between adults, or <> any reason for children to watch something with a screen in between, at least try to ensure that the content is as appropriate as possible, without violence, favoring empathy, interculturality, learning and with the company of adults who supervise what is being watched. Ideally, accompanied viewing would help them to better understand what they are seeing, but if not, at least minimize the possibility of them seeing something inappropriate.

Screen-free toys: the perfect solution for stimulating your children’s imagination

As I got a bit intense at the end, let’s go with the advertisement 😉

The ideal thing to do at any age, but even more so when our little ones are small, is to go out into the countryside, the forest, or anywhere in nature to play with sticks and stones, or at least to breathe fresh air as possible. But it is also true that symbolic play is very positive and from the age of 2 years onwards it comes to the fore in an important way.

In toy shops, there are countless electronic toys that try to emulate the devices we have at home. Fortunately, there are alternatives that encourage symbolic play and reduce exposure to screens with wooden or, in our case, cardboard toys.

The Kraft laptop was born from our little one’s desire to have a computer, it is normal that when they see their parents working with a computer, they want one too. So we created a cardboard one with a blackboard screen. This toy allows children to exercise their imagination and creativity by playing pretend games without resorting to electronic screens. With this option, children can enjoy an interactive and educational game, fostering their cognitive and social development in a healthier way.

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And if you want to know a little more, you can consult these websites and articles. If you know of any interesting and more up-to-date ones, I would be delighted if you share them with us and we can read them.




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