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Screen addiction and its consequences for babies and toddlers

In Estonia, one of the reasons for home visits was screen-addicted babies and toddlers, or more accurately, their parents.

The families who invited me were actually aware of their problem, but not from the perspective I saw it. The purpose of my home visit was not to blame or point the finger at anyone, but rather to see what is happening at home during these 2-3 hours and to propose solutions on an ongoing basis.

The parents' sense of guilt is already big enough and at the same time they don't know how to seek help and don't know if they should.

One of my favorites was the moment when I asked to see how children's toys are organized and what are my recommendations for making life easier. We started right away with the parents by sorting the toys and talking about what causes confusion in the child's room and anger in the parents. Toys and books that don't have a place cause confusion. How is a tiny person supposed to know where to put them if the parent has not created a location for it.

Does your toddler actually speak English?

We sat down at the table and I asked the two year old child in Estonian; "Do you want a cake?" In response I got; "Blue" (in English). I had to break it to the parents their child didn't speak English but said single words without knowing what they really meant. For me, the child would have spoken English if we had had a conversation, but he could not, because the home language of both parents was Estonian. Also, age-appropriate Estonian was absent or very deficient.

The parents had the mixed feelings of "look, my child speaks English", but on the other hand, they didn't know if it was good or rather bad.

Where is the dog buried?

Parents with children at home all confirmed that in order to get time, peace and quiet, the children are allowed to watch YouTube, or rather, the child gets a few screens, but there is no parental control and the child can choose what they want to watch. When I asked why not a children's program or cartoon in Estonian, I was told that the child does not want to watch it. Yes, of course you don't want to, because the action there is perhaps too slow and there are (hopefully) no advertisements and other flashing and glittering advertisements that create interest and attract attention.

The screen is the cheapest nanny.

Parents talk about how they can't do anything at home by their children's side. As a solution, I proposed that we make the home screen-free for the parents and that this so-called free time could be used for household chores and planning. For example, take care of the child in the morning and go outside, before going out put the laundry and the dishwasher to work, etc. It is easy to lose sense of time when looking at a screen and at some point you need to cook, and home realities call loudly (read child). It is certainly not an easy decision, and the parents must be unanimous here, otherwise it will not work.

How many hours screen time a day will hinder a child's spoken development in Estonian?

Honestly, I owe you an answer in this regard. When parents told me that it would be a few hours, there were also those of us who said that it would probably be like 6-8 hours in the day. This last one was a very honest confession for both me and my family. It also turned out that the child is not talked to very much and the reason was generally that what am I talking to them about anyway?! I suggested talking about absolutely everything. You put the laundry in the wash until it's done, what you see when you look out of the window or what the weather is like today.

When does it get hard?

When a child goes to nursery or school and has to communicate with others. Most of the children today need the help of a speech therapist to a greater or lesser extent, and not because the child has something wrong (it is not a child with special needs or some other health condition), but because the child has not been communicated with or taught the Estonian language. Kindergartens go to great lengths to get children to talk, but at the same time one must admit that there are also nurseries that are proud of playing children's songs from YouTube and at the same time showing the children a video on the screen. There are also many children whose parents have to start going to therapy where parents are taught to communicate and play with the child.

Another separate issue is that the child learns the language through play and various activities, but it turns out that the parent does not even know how to play, because they grew up in front of the TV and computer.

Therapy (teaching to play, to communicate) is only useful if the action plan brought home is followed to help and nuture the child's development. At the same time, there is a problem when parents go to therapy with their child, but sit on their phones and the therapist has to remind them that it is time to be without screens. A family does not need to wait until they see a theraphist to reduce or cut out screen time for their children. It should be a last resort given the financial and time cost associated with the sessions and enacting the techniques learned from the therapist. One should also not ignore the strain from nervousness and tension that the process can bring to family life.

There is a lot to talk about screens and their impact on children. In the coming weeks there will be posts on how screens affect behaviour, sleep and nutrition. There will be examples from my everyday practice for all topics.


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