Effects of Screen Time on Children
Though most of us adults can remember when email and MySpace became popular, today’s children have never known a modern world without endless texting, social media, television shows, or educational tablet apps. It is true that these technological advancements have made life much easier for the world as a whole, but it has also created a new challenge for parents, which begs a well-debated question: How much screen time is too much screen time for children?
What is the Right Amount of Screen Time?
Unfortunately, there is no concrete answer science has found that can tell us what exact amount of screen time is right for every child across the board, however, there is somewhat of a sweet spot. What we do know is that there should be a reasonable limit on screen time each day because unlimited screen time can be harmful to child development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents need to set reasonable boundaries for children, and that American households need to take these technology limits more seriously than they currently do.
The American Heart Association recommends for children ages 2-5 to have a limited screen time (tablets, television, gaming devices, and otherwise) of around one hour per day. For children younger than the age of 2, the American Heart Association recommends that there be no screen time at all. And while a 2010 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation found children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend a whopping 7.5 hours per day using entertainment media, the recommended amount of screen time is 2 hours. This surplus of 5.5 hours older children are spending using technology per day can cause serious negative physical and mental health problems.
The Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time
Do you ever leave the television on so your toddler can be distracted while you’re cooking? Have you ever let your preteen have “just ten more minutes” of gaming time before they finish their homework for the night? We can assure you you’re not alone! While every mom is a “super mom” and every dad is a “super dad,” none of us are real superheroes who can do our jobs, house chores, cooking, and care for our children to our maximum abilities one hundred percent of the time. So, it makes sense that we sometimes allow our children to have more screen time than we think we should. With that being said, it is important to at least be aware of the many negative health effects an excessive amount of technology usage can have on our children:
- Obesity & Disease: CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula explains that an increase in screen time leads to sedentary behavior, contributing to an increase in cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and especially obesity down the line. Watching an excess of television can also lead to children mindlessly snacking, causing them to overeat and ignore the signals their body sends them when they are feeling full. It is recommended that a maximum of two hours per day is allowed for children over the age of 5.
- Behavioral & Educational Problems: Children under the age of 10 who watch television or use technology for more than two hours per day tend to have more social and emotional problems, and do worse in school testing if they have a television in their bedroom. These children can also have attention problems.
- Sleeping Problems: Children (and even adults) of any age can have severe disruptions in their sleep patterns if they watch television or look at screens up to two hours before bedtime. The blue light from technology screens interferes with sleep cycles, causing trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or clinical insomnia. Sleeping problems can also contribute to obesity, causing children to think they need to eat more to make up for the energy they are lacking from missing a good night of rest.
- Violence: When children are exposed (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to graphic video games, television shows, music, and other forms of entertainment, their brains become desensitized to the severity of the content. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has done research which shows that children who are not monitored or restricted during their screen time are likely to experience violent subject matter, and may have a tendency to act out in more violent manners than their supervised peers.
Strained Family Relationships: According to a 2015 survey by AVG Technologies, 1 in 3 children feel unimportant to their parent when he or she looks at their smartphone while at the dinner table or playing with them. Not only can your child’s excessive technology usage create constant battles in your relationship with your child, but your screen time matters too. Make sure to keep your own screen time in mind when you are spending quality time with your child.
Establishing Boundaries Around Screen Time
As the old adage goes, “Change starts with you.” When it comes to being a parent in the age of great technological advancements, it is important to be self-aware of your own screen time around your children. After all, you are also susceptible to the same negative effects technology can have on your child’s physical and mental health, such as increased risk of obesity, and sleeping problems. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that your children tend to mirror your own behaviors, and this includes amounts of screen time per day. Limiting your own screen time around your children sends the message that your child is your priority, not your smartphone or the television. This can help immensely with your child’s social skills, self-esteem, and self-monitoring when it comes to their own screen time.
Parents and guardians not only need to limit their own screen time around children, but also set boundaries around technology usage in the home. The following are some examples (including some from Verywell Family) of boundaries you can set to encourage a healthy amount of screen time for everyone in your home:
- No digital devices during family meals
- No using technology during family game nights or activities
- No screen time allowed during a certain time of day
- No screen time allowed before homework is done
- No electronics allowed in bedrooms
- No electronics two hours before bedtime
It is up to you to be a positive role model when it comes to appropriate technology use in your family. Not only will placing boundaries around screen time help your child’s physical and mental health and development, but it can benefit the entire family too – including you!