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The dangers our children face from excessive screen time are very real: obesity, sleep problems and poor attention span, to name just a few.

The solution we’re often told is simply to “take your kids outside more.” But is this realistic in our technologically wired world—and is it the best option?  

We look at the effects of screen time on your preschoolers and how you can find an appropriate role for technology in their lives.

Is Screen Time Harmful?

You're busy. You do your best as a parent, but sometimes you just need to take a shower or cook the dinner. 

At times like these, the tablet, smartphone, video game, or television can seem like the best babysitter.

Unfortunately, excessive TV viewing has been linked to slower child development, including cognitive, language and social/emotional delays.

The first five years are critical for brain development, building secure relationships and establishing good health habits, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP).

Infants 12 months and under who are exposed to screens in the evening tend to sleep 30 minutes less a night.

In its paper Media and Young Minds, the APP reveals that the body mass index of two-year-olds increases for every hour per week of media consumed.

This puts them at risk of weight gain later in childhood, and subsequent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

And infants 12 months and under who are exposed to screens in the evening tend to sleep 30 minutes less a night, the report also says. 

Little boy using DSLR camera outside

You can combine outdoor activity with technology for a hybrid of both worlds

The Benefits of Activity

In contrast, physical fitness has long been associated with well-being, particularly in little people.

The journal Human Kinetics examined the relationship between physical fitness and psychological well-being in children aged 10-14 years.

Fitter children also possess more gray matter, which could influence their academic performance," ~ University of Granada

It found that fitter children were more likely to have healthy friendships, improved cognitive function, better athletic and social skills, greater feelings of self-worth, and fewer signs of depression. 

Fitter children also possess more gray matter, which could influence their academic performance, a pioneering study by the University of Granada has recently found.

When obese children aged 8-11 became more active, they increased their aerobic capacity—which scientists have associated with more significant gray matter in areas of the brain that are important for the executive function as well as for learning, motor and visual processes.

So is the solution to completely unwire and push our children into activity? 

Creating ‘The Hybrid Mind’

Not according to author Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network—an international movement to connect children and their families to nature.

Instead we could create a ‘hybrid mind,’ where children are using skills that come from technology as well as those that come from nature.

“The more high tech our lives become, the more nature we need,” he says. “We need that balance.

“Anybody who’s using both sets of skills—the ones that come from the natural world and the ones that come from the electronic world—is going to be better at their job.

“The hybrid mind uses both sets of skills.”

So instead of eschewing one lifestyle for another, we would be better combining digital media with our children’s active lifestyles.

Geocache box hidden in the woods

Use your phone's GPS for a real-world treasure hunt

How Could We Create a Hybrid Mind? 

  • Conduct a natural treasure hunt using a plant identification app.
  • Measure your kids’ movements with a fitness tracker.
  • Let your children be in charge of their outdoor communications via walkie-talkies.
  • Participate in Geocaching, where you use your phone’s GPS to go on a real-world treasure hunt.
  • Learn photography to capture the brilliant side of nature.
  • Watch David Attenborough’s Blue Planet nature series on the BBC.
  • Use computer programs to help identify bird calls.

In today’s increasingly digital age, technology is playing a bigger role at home, in the classroom, and in our entertainment.

You don't have to give in meekly, and you don't have to move your family to a cave on a remote island. 

Not only is removing all media becoming an impossible task, but it could also negatively affect your little one’s ability to connect to the 21st century.

You really can have a ‘hybrid’ of both worlds through increasing your child's activity and teaching them the appropriate roles for technology in their personal lives.

Instead of being anti-technology, we can try to find a healthy media diet that works for the whole family!