As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, parents are finding out just how reliant their kids have become on their screen time. For many families, shut downs forced us to turn to virtual entertainment. Schools went totally online. We dramatically increased our online communications with the loved ones we couldn’t see in person. The result is that now, more than ever, we’ve embraced the virtual world – and many children are finding it hard to break their screen time “addiction.” How dangerous is screen time for our kids and how can parents restrict their online time?
What Do Kids Say About The Time They Spend On Their Devices?
Back in 2018, the Pew Research Center set up a study to see how much screen time use there was among children. At the time, 54 percent of the teens aged 13 – 17 were voicing concerns about the amount of time they were spending on their phones and online.
The study researchers reported that, “Some 52% of U.S. teens report taking steps to cut back on their mobile phone use, and similar shares have tried to limit their use of social media (57%) or video games (58%).”
But then Covid-19 came into our lives and our device use skyrocketed. We’re now worrying if screen time can cause any mental or physical harm to our children (or ourselves).
How Does Screen Time Change A Child’s Brain?
At this time, experts aren’t 100 percent positive that spending a good part of our waking hours online is bad for us, but they’re pretty sure that it is detrimental. Because we’ve only been able to access affordable computers and cell phones for about three decades, there just isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove the theory yet. While thirty years may seem like a long time, it really isn’t when it comes to studying physical or behavioral effects.
However, we do know that children’s brains are still in the process of developing and growing, so experts agree that this technology is very likely having a negative impact on their brains.
The National Institutes of Health agrees. Right now, they are conducting the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. This ongoing research is following more than 11,000 kids, ages 9 and 10 years old, at 21 locations throughout the United States.
An article on Healthline, has reported the initial results of the research. The data gathered to date shows that:
- Children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests.
- MRI scans found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day.
If you think about it, it’s frightening to think that we still have to wait for years before finding out if these changes are from too much screen time or caused by something else. If these effects are caused by using our devices, what further damage will be done by then?
How About The Emotional Effects Of Too Much Screen Time?
Is there an emotional component of having too much screen time? Sadly, it seems that our devices are affecting kid’s mental health, as well.
Another 2018 population-based study (this one from Twenge and Campbell) reports that “…increasing screen time was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being.” And this is the result after just one hour of screen daily time! The study also notes, “High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.”
Okay, but it can’t be too big of a deal if kids are interacting with each other, right? They’re developing social relationships, among other perks.
Again, the answer is unmistakably ‘no’. According to a Psychology Today article by Victoria L. Dunckley M.D., “…many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.”
In addition to the physical and psychological effects, too much social media time can lead to problems with acquiring and using social skills. It also decreases self-esteem – in both children and adults. Furthermore, kids can be bullied online and be unable to to stop it – even though their parents could be sitting right next to them.
How To Limit Your Child’s Screen Time
If you’re having a tough time limiting your child’s screen time, try these tips and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- 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.
- Don’t use screen time as a way to calm your child down or as a babysitter.
- 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.
We Can Help Break The Screen Time Cycle
If you are concerned about your teen or ‘tween’s reliance on their screen time, we can help you take steps to “disconnect.” For more information, contact The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.