The screen effect

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Breaking news! Young children grow up discovering their world through their senses. It’s what we talk about all the time here at Child In Mind - learning through feelings. Kids are conditioned to learn everything about their surroundings so they can live in them successfully. Their eyes are always busy observing and experiencing. So let’s talk a bit about developmental stages in regards to perception.

Babies (0-1 year old):

Hands are grabbing at anything they can reach - don’t you know it. Mouths are busy biting objects (or people) around them so they can get to know what things are. After all, they have been sucking on their thumb, their mother’s breast or a bottle all their little lives, so the taste is a key sense to them. They also begin to understand that some objects are near and some are far and that they need to move their bodies to the object they want. So they learn to turn over, crawl and voila, walk!

Toddlers (1-2 yrs old):

Loving the power of their feet at this point - they can now walk (and run and stumble) to far-away objects. They are mastering their bodies and understanding that they need to move, reach, search, and explore their world, from a small dollhouse to a tall tree.

Preschoolers (2-4 yrs old):

Now they’re putting together all those experiences in words, feelings, and ideas. When they do things over and over by knocking down, building, pulling, climbing, they are mastering the science and math of their world. When they say something, they notice the effect of their words on other people.

Pre-Kindergarteners (4-5 yrs old):

Here they’re developing complex concepts they will spend years testing, failing, testing again. It could be with their bodies in an ocean wave or losing at a board game or fighting sleep and on and on the learning and living continues.

These are all life experiences with cause and effect, trial and error, sadness, and joy. Most of these sensations, perceptions, tastes, and feelings cannot be generated from a TV, Ipad, or phone screen. The whole ethos of growing up is learning at their own pace, their own readiness, and participation. Each experience builds upon the other. Images are not seen from one object to the other, sounds don’t change suddenly and faces are not always full of emotion. These things are synthesized in TV shows, YouTube videos, games.

Watching a screen for a prolonged period of time is counter-intuitive to children. Sure, they’re easily conditioned to love it - it is easy to love, after all. But it does quickly make them passive to the sights and sounds of a screen. They are fed information instead of discovering it themselves. As their sight and perception develop and as they can see objects further and further away, they are also learning the concept of perspective and size. Their minds, the most sophisticated computer in the world, is calculating all of that: how far a toy is, how close Mommy is walking by on her way to the kitchen to grab that second bowl of ice cream, and how big that tree is in the distance. Their whole perception is built every minute they spend looking around. If I fall down, what does it feel like? If I have feelings I don’t have words for, what do I do?

Of course, the screen experiences will never go away. In fact, parents use it increasingly to appease and entertain their children. But what is it taking away from them? What experience, emotions, and sensations are substituted for passive entertainment?

We know this can be scary or overwhelming in a time when well, you don’t have a lot of time. And screens are more and more essential to everyday life, even for preschoolers. All you have to do is stay aware, mitigate screen time when you can by reevaluating when it’s necessary, like for school, and when you could be a little more creative with entertainment. If you do that, eventually they’ll grow the ability to find more ways to entertain themselves instead of asking for the TV all the time. And don’t fret - in our next blog, we’ll break down some ways to avoid and alleviate the effects of screen-watching.

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