I am often asked how much time a child should be allowed to watch television, play video games or use a tablet like an iPad. My answer: it depends.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends zero screen time for kids under the age of 2. It recommends less than 1 or 2 hours per day for older children. Check their tips for limiting screen time here.
I think it is important to make a distinction between “passive” screen time and “engaged” screen time. Play should be the number one occupation for children. Through play children develop their social and communication skills, their fine and gross motor skills and discover the world around them. If screen time competes with play it can lead to gaps in the child’s development.
For many children with special needs it is through technology that they can best learn about the world around them and develop motor control.
- A child who is unable to use his hand to move toy trucks may be able to use a tablet to control a remote-controlled robot (post coming soon on robots and remote-controlled toys).
- A child who is unable to turn pages of a book may be able to use a switch to turn pages of an electronic book on a computer (post coming soon on e-books).
- Hand-held devices can operate lights and small electrical appliances giving the child a feeling of control and a boost in self-esteem (post coming soon on Smart Home technology).
- When friends’ homes are not wheelchair accessible video games and social media may be particularly important to stay in touch.
The question then should not be how much screen time a child with special needs is exposed to but how much learning and exploration is possible during screen time that would not occur otherwise for this child. Sometimes a bit more screen time than is recommended is not bad.