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The Negative Effects of Screen Time

Children today grow up with a world of technology at their feet. Unfortunately, research shows that this new technology has taken a heavy toll on our children. According to the statistics, children spend an average of six to nine hours of screen time every day, with some children spending even more screen time than that.

UC San Francisco-led researchers found that 12- to 13-year-old children in the United States doubled their non-school-related screen time to 7.7 hours a day in May 2020, compared to 3.8 hours a day before the pandemic. The study also found that children of color and those from lower-income families logged more hours on screens than their white, wealthier peers.

The study found the most common recreational activities were watching or streaming movies, videos and television, followed by gaming.

Because children spend more time watching television, playing video games, and using smartphones, they lose out on valuable playtime, sleep, exercise, and interaction with parents, teachers, and friends. An unhealthy lifestyle is developing.

Busy parents find it hard to set boundaries for their children's screen time. Children do not have the attention span to read, play outdoors, or even concentrate during class because of the increased screen use.

And studies show that children who spend more time on screens are less physically active, stunting their brain growth and development. But there's more.

What are other alarming effects of screen time?
  • Sleep problems

  • Lower grades in school

  • Reading fewer books

  • Less time with family and friends

  • Not enough outdoor or physical activity

  • Weight problems

  • Behavioral problems or violence

  • Mood problems

  • Poor self-image and body image issues

  • Fear of missing out

  • Poor social skill development

  • Less time learning other ways to relax and have fun

Let's dive deeper into just a few of these...

1. Problems with behavior. Children who spend an excessive amount of time in front of screens are more likely to be defiant, disobedient, and passive. They become less respectful towards adults, have lower self-discipline, and are more likely to engage in risky behavior.

  • Excessive screen time also means these children are likely to have social, emotional, and learning difficulties.

  • The solution? Limit screen time to no more than 2 hours per day.

2. Increased aggression. Children exposed to violent media are more likely to become aggressive.

  • Research has found that children in households with too much unmonitored access to televisions, computers, or video games are more likely to demonstrate aggression and hostility towards their peers.

  • Parents can replace violent television, video games, and computer time with constructive, enriching activities like reading, sports, or going to a park.

3. Lack of sleep. Time spent on the screen directly impacts sleep duration and quality. Children who watch too much television, play video games, or surf the internet for many hours of the night are more likely to fall asleep late and suffer sleep deprivation.

  • Every sleep therapist will agree that using electronic devices right before bedtime can negatively impact sleep. Not only does it make it more difficult to fall asleep, but the brightness of the screens also prevents the brain from producing the sleep hormones needed to fall asleep.

  • Consider enforcing a "no screens" rule after a reasonable evening hour - 7p or 8p. The practice helps teens reduce screen time, leading to better sleep.

4. Negative mental health effects. Depression and traumatic stress are more common in teens who spend long periods in front of screens.

  • Studies suggest that excessive screen time can cause symptoms of depression, such as sadness, loss of interest in the things that they used to enjoy, and loss of appetite.

  • Excessive screen time can also contribute to stress, affecting school performance and unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and substance abuse.

  • Some studies indicate that children score lower points in language and thinking tests when they spent over two hours each day on their devices.

5. Weakened social skills. When teens spend more time with screens than people, their social skills suffer. They tend to get preoccupied with the device and forget to be present with people. So when they experience real-life events, such as social gatherings, they don't know how to respond appropriately.

  • That results in them failing to connect with others and have interesting and enjoyable conversations.

  • Parents can help their kids overcome this by providing them with more opportunities to connect with real people.

Some additional tips to keep in mind are:
  • Don’t use screen time as a way to calm your child down or as a babysitter.

  • For children under 18 months old, no screen time.

  • For children 18 to 24 months old, parents should choose only high-quality media and watch it with their child.

  • For children 2 to 5 years old, less than one hour per day of high-quality programming is recommended, with parents watching along.

  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.

  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child play times screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.

  • Familiarize yourself with the apps and programming your kids are consuming to make sure it is age-appropriate.

  • Talk with your children about what they are seeing. Point out good behavior, such as cooperation, friendship, and concern for others. Make connections to meaningful events or places of interest.

  • Be aware of advertising and how it influences choices, and talk about this with kids in age appropriate manners.

  • Encourage your child to get engaged in other activities such as sports, music, art, and hobbies that do not involve screens.

  • Set a good example with your own safe and healthy screen habits.

  • Teach children about online privacy and safety.

  • Actively decide when your child is ready for a personal device.

  • Encourage using screens in ways that build creativity and connection with family and friends.

  • Consider your child or teen’s maturity and habits. The right plan for one family may not be a good fit for another.

And for you adults who are trying to limit your own screen time:
  • As with the suggestions for kids: Keep screens out of the bedroom and stash them somewhere else during mealtimes and parent–child play times.

  • Use phone apps to alert you when it’s time to stop using the phone.

  • Turn off the majority of your notifications.

  • Delete or greatly edit your social media apps.

  • Stop using your phone as an alarm clock because it’s too easy to get caught up in checking for updates from friends, scanning texts, and reading emails if you pick up the phone to turn off the alarm. Plug it in out of arm's reach so you can still answer the phone if it's an emergency, but not get sucked into the temptation to scroll...

Although it can be entertaining, it’s important for parents to educate their children about the harmful effects of excessive screen time, be strict with their children's screen usage, and set up rules so that they can limit the amount of time spent on screens. As a result, your children will benefit immensely.

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