Kids using mobile devices - Valley Pediatrics

These days, almost everyone always has some sort of screen around. There is significant evidence that spending too much time in front of a screen is bad for both kids and adults. It’s likely your family can benefit from reducing screen exposure. Keep reading to find out what happens to your body and mind when you spend too much time staring at a screen. Then use those insights to help you and your family cut back! 

How much screen time is too much?

Screens are so integrated into our daily lives that they can be difficult to avoid. In such a digitized world, screens are a key component for most of us to complete our work or for kids to complete their school work. Screen usage for work or school work is typically not calculated into total daily screen time. When calculating your child’s screen time this would include things like phones, tablets, TV or computer usage for things other than school work such as playing games or watching videos or movies. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises children under the age of two to not have screen time and to limit their exposure to screens as much as possible. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should have no more than 1-2 hours of supervised screen time with the emphasis of any screen time on educational shows or games. For children over the age of 5, it is recommended to limit screen time to no more than 2 hours per day outside of school work and homework assignments.

Why is too much screen time bad?

Whether you have the TV on in the background or everyone in the house is glued to their phones, it’s not good to spend too much time in front of a screen. Listed below are some of the potential health risks associated with excessive screen use.

  • Higher risk of obesity:

Screen time is typically inactive time. Decreased activity levels are associated with an increased risk of obesity. Obesity is associated with higher risks for developing diabetes, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol. In addition, TV advertisements are flooded with commercials for fast foods and highly processed snacks which tempt us to make less healthy food choices, which in turn can increase the risk of obesity.

  • Sleep issues:

The artificial light emitting from your electronic devices interferes with your brain’s sleep cycle and can cause sleep issues. Blue light, the kind of light emitted by most screens, disrupts the body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, which makes it harder to fall asleep. That’s why you may find it is harder and takes you longer to fall asleep after using a digital gadget in the hours leading up to bedtime.

  • Back and Neck pain:  

Spending too much time in front of a screen can negatively affect your posture, leading to persistent pain in your shoulders, neck and back. This is often caused from chronic slouching which is very common in smart phone users. If you have to spend a large amount of time in front of a screen for work or school, we recommend you get up and move around at least once per hour. In addition, make sure that your chair has sufficient back support and try to keep screens at eye level.

  • Stress and anxiety:  

Intense screen usage has been linked to psychological distress, sadness, suicidal behavior, emotional distress and diminished capacity to understand the emotions of others.

  • Eye strain:  

The eyes are particularly subject to strain from high amounts of screen usage. Screen usage has been linked to dry eyes, headaches, retinal damage and impaired vision. Many people who already have vision issues may find that prolonged screen use can make the issues worse.

  • Impairment of cognitive capabilities:  

One of the most alarming consequences of too much screen time is impaired cognitive capabilities. The brain’s grey matter, which is important for cognitive functions, shrinks with too much screen time. The brain’s white matter, which acts as a network for signal communication in the brain, becomes misshapen. This causes difficulties with focusing, remembering, processing information and controlling impulses. This is particularly concerning for young children whose brains are still developing. Research shows that children who spend more than 2 hours a day staring at screens have worse scores on thinking and language tests.

  • Communication difficulties: 

Because we are so absorbed with what’s occurring on our screens, digital gadget use is lonely pastime. Antisocial behavior and feelings of isolation can increase as a result. In addition, spending too much time on electronic devices instead of exploring and imaginative play with friends is robbing our youth of a crucial opportunity to learn social skills.

  • Inadequate capacity for emotional discernment:  

Excessive screen usage negatively impacts the capacity to recognize and process feelings. Some studies have shown that young kids might develop aggressive tendencies after being exposed to violent media material.

  • Difficulty in learning:  

The structural brain changes associated with excessive screen time noted above can negatively impact a child’s ability to learn. Particularly, children who watch more TV have a more challenging time with language development. Young children learn best via physical exploration and imaginative play. Allowing them to watch shows passively hampers their brains from being active and involved in the learning process. While instructional programming can be a tool for learning, it may not be the best approach to educate young children. 

  • Loss in Confidence:  

Lastly, spending too much time in front of a screen might alter your view of yourself in negative ways. Feelings of self-confidence can suffer as a result of time lost building in person relationships with others, developing new hobbies and having new experiences. This issue is compounded with social media, where people often feel the need to compare their lives to others and can experience sadness or lack of confidence if they don’t feel their lives measure up to what they see on social media.

Ways to cut down on screen time:

While cutting down to a few hours of screen time per day may be unrealistic, any reduction in the amount of screen time can be beneficial to your children and family. Here are some tips to help everyone in your house limit their screen time.

  1. Responsible use of electronics – Parents play an important part in their children’s development as role models. Parents set the example by avoiding having the TV on “in the background” or constant phone usage while little eyes are watching.
  2. Make sure you disconnect from technology from time to time – Set aside some quality time as a family where everyone turns off their electronic devices. Putting down your electronic gadgets is a great way to spend time with your loved ones and reduce screen time in the process.
  3. Setting up parental controls – In addition to being a good role model and leading by example with screen usage, parental controls or filtering/blocking software is a great time to help set limits on your children’s screen time. With the use of these controls, you can set how much time per day your child can utilize certain devices or apps and even help prevent them from seeing content that is not age appropriate.
  4. Encourage other activities – It is common for children these days to spend excessive amounts of time in front of screens. Parents should set limits and encourage them to go outside, read a book or play a game instead.
  5. Avoid having screens in the bedroom – Screens in the bedroom can cause a multitude of issues including effects on children’s sleep habits. Sleep is very important to let the mind and body rest and restore for the next day. We recommend all bedrooms be “screen free” zones all the time but most importantly at bedtime. Tablets and smart phones should be kept in a common area instead of bedrooms at night. It is also recommended not to have a TV in the bedroom either. 

Screens are integrated into almost all aspects of daily life now. Navigating parenthood in this digital age can be difficult but it is not impossible. Contact Valley Pediatrics if you have concerns about the impact of excessive screen use on kids and are looking for practical and empathetic support.

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