Kids under 6 should keep screen time to a minimum, leading neuropsychologist says

MADRID, Spain — When is the right age for young kids to start watching television? What about for using a tablet or smartphone? A leading neuropsychologist says parents should either put children under the age of six on a strict schedule for screen time or not allow them to use these devices at all.

“Many parents begin to encourage the use of mobile phones and tablets,” explains Dr. Álvaro Bilbao, Ph.D., in a media release. “Rather than moving towards a greater attention span and greater control of the child’s own mind, in my opinion it provokes a delay…It would be like giving an 800 cc motorbike to a child who has just learnt to walk.”

In his book, “Understanding Your Child’s Brain,” Dr. Bilbao uses up-to-date, validated research to back up his points. He highlights the psychological and behavioral risks of letting young children have unlimited access to iPhones and iPads. Attention deficit disorders, addiction, and depression are just a few of them.

The book explains neuroscience in a basic way to best convey how small children think, feel, and behave at the beginning of their lives. For parents, the four key sections in the book are: the fundamentals for understanding child brain development, tools necessary for supporting this growth, how to teach emotional intelligence, and how to strengthen the intellectual brain. Each area of advice conveniently links to a specific brain area and how it develops in children over time.

Children screen time: Toddlers on iPad or tablet
Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Even tech giants avoid screen time

Dr. Bilbao says he has no apps on his phone or tablet for his three children. Even some of the most well-known names in technology, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, have said in past interviews that they restricted their children’s screen time.

“Occasionally my children use the mobile phone to look through photos of our holiday…and we do it together. Sometimes we look at a song with them and learn the dance moves, but they don’t play games. We also limit their time in front of the television,” the author says.

Dr. Bilbao adds that introducing devices should be a gradual process and only happen once a child has developed enough emotionally and intellectually — which is usually after age six. This recommendation is in line with that of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

However, he sympathizes with parents too, recognizing that it’s often hard to keep kids entertained, and an iPad is an easy fix. The neuropsychologist gives parents some quick tips:

  • Let your kids get bored, it actually unlocks creativity.
  • Don’t shout at a child to establish limits, it can disable their cerebral cortex, which is the part that helps manage limits.
  • Don’t use social rewards as reinforcement, like letting your kid have your keys.
  • Don’t use “trick-punishments,” which can create learned behavior that isn’t healthy, like a lonely child realizing that the only way they will receive attention is when their parents yell at them.

The book also stresses that there’s a detriment to going on the extreme opposite end, too. “Natural” education alternatives with no set rules or structure and unproven programs that promise to turn your child into a genius are just a couple of them.

Bilbao’s main takeaway is that “a genetically modified tomato, which ripens in a few days…., loses the essence of its flavor…a brain that develops under pressure…can lose part of its essence along the way.”

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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