Why digital games and screens are NOT good gifts for young kids this festive season!


Hello everyone – I hope you’re all having fun in the run up to the festive season! I guess that in the next week or so, if you haven’t done so already, you’ll be buying gifts for all your nearest and dearest – and especially your little ones! So today I want to address that controversial question – should I buy my child a digital screen/game/toy. Here’s my take on the matter:

If a salesman were to come to our doors and offer a drink for our young children that would:

  • inhibit their gross motor development (eg ability to stack blocks)
  • inhibit their fine motor development (eg ability to hold a pencil)
  • inhibit their social development (eg ability to play with a friend or join in a group activity)
  • inhibit their speech development
  • erode their memory
  • limit their attention span
  • give them symptoms akin to ADD

 then I’m pretty sure most of us would report that salesman to the police, and he’d likely be prosecuted and locked away for a substantial period!

And yet daily I see small children sitting with their parents in shopping malls and restaurants swiping away at digital screens whilst their parent is usually swiping away on their own device. And of course this means they’re doing the same at home.

Yet paediatricians, child psychologists and educators will tell you that this is  highly detrimental to normal child development. On an alarmingly frequent basis we read that tiny children as young as 2 or 3 exhibit signs of addiction to digital screens, with alarming consequences.

Take a look at two articles in recent years from teachers in the UK here and child psychologists in France here which lay the growing incidence of the disabilities I have listed above directly at the feet of parents who purchase digital toys and games for their little ones, in, at best, the misguided belief that they are somehow giving their children a headstart in their digital education, or, at worst, the desire that the digital device will relieve them of the responsibility of engaging with their children. (If you’d like a translation of the French article, just cut and paste it into Google Translate here ).

 The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that:

  • for children under the age of 18 months: there should be NO screen time at all in order to allow normal brain development and healthy parent/child bonding – which includes TV, and includes mum not watching TV whilst breast-feeding, and dad not checking his phone while feeding the kids;
  • for children of 2 to 5 years: unplugged playtime should be the priority, but up to just ONE HOUR of screen time is okay provided that’s high quality programming without advertisements eg Sesame Street. Cartoons are a big NO,  but Skype or Facetime conversations with family members are fine, as they promote social bonding;
  • for kids of 6 years plus, and teenagers: this is where the AAP gets creative. Their advice is that all older kids and teens need, on an average day, to go to school, to do their homework, to have at least ONE HOUR of physical activity, to have social contact, and to sleep anywhere between 8 AND 12 HOURS. In the time that’s left, screens are okay. (If we say an average day at school is 7 – 8 hours including transport to and from, homework takes between 30 minutes and 3  hours, and real social contact with parents, friends, neighbours say 1 to 2 hours, that leaves only 2.5 hours for everything else for youngsters and 4 hours for older teens, including their ubiquitous extra-curricular activities and/or tutoring and time spent playing with digital games and on social media – if they get their homework done in 3 hours, that is :)).  For this age group, the AAP offers a very helpful Family Media Planner here.

So the short answer to whether you should buy any young child of 6 years and under a digital toy or screen is a resounding NO!

(And for kids older than 6 including teenagers – use caution and lay down strict ground rules)

For the little ones in your life, try giving real books (like my funny and fabulous Chinese Calendar Tales :)), real toys, jigsaw puzzles, dolls, dolls houses, Lego, cars, rockets, tricycles, dressing-up costumes, craft kits – you know, the toys you and I knew and loved as children. And watch your kids grow and flourish in every aspect of their development!