In a stunning blow for people who use technology as a babysitter for their kids, research is revealing (not surprisingly) that toddlers who are allowed to play with devices and stare at tiny screens are getting less sleep. Researchers at Birkbeck, University of London, concluded that for every four hours a toddler uses a touchscreen of any sort, they sleep fifteen minutes less at night.
Further, children who played with touchscreens tended to sleep less at night and more during the day, which is not setting them up for success once they start their school journey. Toddlers need ten to fourteen hours of sleep every day, typically including a nap until they’re eighteen months old.
Sleep is critical for their development.
The National Sleep Foundation explains that during deep sleep, “blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development.”
But let’s be real here. The issue isn’t toddlers sleeping less, it’s parents who think that all these technologies and devices are a replacement for real interactive parenting time.
Author and toddler parent Wilson Rothman represents this perspective: “Having a kid aged zero to five means constantly having to come up with entertaining diversions. Fortunately, even this early, the iPad is absolutely brimming with those. If you have a small kid, the iPad bandwagon beckons.”
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) felt so strongly about parents’ poor choices regarding digital media and its impact on little children that they released guidelines late in 2016 that highlight how incredibly limited young children’s screen time should be.
Under the age of eighteen months, the AAP recommends zero screen time, with the exception of the occasional video chat with a grandparent or distant parent. For children ages eighteen to twenty-four months, doctors recommend less than one hour a day and only high quality programming. In fact, the AAP recommends that parents watch the shows with their children so they understand what the children are seeing. And from ages two to five, the AAP recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day (also with parental supervision).
Now, how many four-year-old children do you know whose parents limit them to a maximum of one hour per day of screen time? Not so many in my experience.
Part of the challenge is that technology companies are eager to nurture tiny little consumers who can’t live without their digital pacifiers and parents are happy to play along to gain some free time for themselves. Companies create apps like the just announced Lunaby, which lets parents record themselves reading a favorite book so that their young child can “enjoy it when they want some personal time” with mummy or daddy. Because God forbid you actually take a few minutes out of your day and read to your child in person, which is what your children really want from you.
But digital babysitting is all about the parents, isn’t it? Consider how The Guardian framed a recent story about apps to help parents find babysitters with the headline, “Babysitting apps boom as parents bid to reclaim free time.” Reclaim free time? Yes, having a baby creates challenges, but the popular theme in contemporary culture that spending time with your children will get in the way of modern parents exploring their own needs and enjoying their free time is a pernicious message.
Let’s close with a tip to all parents, new and experienced both: “Quality time” is a myth. Children don’t want short but focused interactions with a parent. They want and need quantity time, however inconvenient it may be for their parents. Having a child is a lifelong commitment; no robot, tablet, or educational television show is going to change that.