Excessive Screen Time
Excessive screen time can significantly limit a child’s opportunity to experience the distinctive day-to-day activities, which can cause narrowing of their general interests regarding off-screen matters/facts.
Physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive developments occur very rapidly in young children, especially those under the age of 3 years. Generally, children learn from their surrounding environment by observing the activities of adults, especially their parents.
What is all this screen time doing to kids’ brains?
Children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.
If young children spend most of their time engaging with an iPad, smartphone, or the television, all of which are highly entertaining, it can be hard to get them engaged in non-electronic activities, such as playing with toys to foster imagination and creativity, exploring outdoors, and playing with other children to develop appropriate social skills. Interacting almost exclusively with screens would be like working out only your arm muscles and nothing else. You would have really strong arm muscles, but at the expense of overall fitness.
How might screens impact a child’s sleep?
As humans, our circadian rhythms and our production of melatonin — the sleep hormone — kicks in when the sun sets. But the blue light from screens inhibits melatonin, which can delay sleep. And watching TV or playing games also keeps our brains and bodies more alert and activated and less ready for sleep. (Tablets and smartphones will suppress the melatonin more than TVs because the screen, and that blue light, is closer to the face).
For preteens and teenagers, excessive use of screens late at night will affect their sleep, and keeping screens out of the bedroom is advised. Too much time spent on social media as well as lack of sleep can affect behavior and cognitive performance in school and interfere with learning. It has also been shown that excessive screen time and sleep deprivation are linked to obesity, which in turn can affect self-esteem and lead to social isolation and more screen time.
Are some screens worse than others?
Television isn’t as bad as it was once perceived to be as it can be controlled more easily and stays in one place. Tablets and smartphones are much more accessible because they’re portable. You can take them anywhere and use them at any time.
I believe YouTube is generally bad for young children. If left to their own devices, children are often better than their parents at finding their favorite videos that link to other videos and can lead to hours of watching endless clips. The largely unregulated nature of the site allows children to watch almost anything; at best there is little educational value, and at worst it can be violent or inappropriate content. Again, the best course of action is to watch with the child so the parent is engaged in finding content that is appropriate and educational.
What tips do you have for parents to limit screen time for kids?
1. Co-watch whenever possible. If children are going to have screen time, the best thing you can do is to watch the show or game with them to help them understand what they’re seeing. Comment on things you notice, ask questions about what is happening, if someone on a show is singing a song, sing along with your child. Engage with them and repeat concepts after the show is over so they’re more likely to retain that information.
2. Choose media wisely. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games, and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
3. Keep bedtime, mealtime, and family time screen-free. Don’t use screens in the car except for long trips, and consider setting a curfew or an agreed-upon time when your family shuts off all screens. Balancing online and offline time is extremely important.
4. Limit your own phone use. Kids will do what they see their parents doing. At a young age, their parent(s) is the most important person in their life, so they will model whatever behavior they are seeing. If they see that you’re behind a screen all day every day, then they’ll see that it’s acceptable and will want to do the same.
5. Emphasize the big three: sleep, healthy nutrition, and exercise. All three are essential to optimal brain growth and development and health and wellness for children and adults alike. And excessive screen time can impact all three. Children who spend more time in front of screens have been shown to eat more fast food and less fruits and vegetables and get less sleep and exercise. Therefore, it is very important to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices as part of the daily routine, as well as limiting screen time.
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