Does Screen Time Affect Children’s Health?

It is an indisputable fact that technology has weaseled its way into every crevice of life as we know it today. It is not unusual to see a toddler tapping away at a touchscreen as parents try to distract them from behaving poorly.

However, research indicates that exposure to extended screen time can be detrimental to children’s development and reaffirm “bad” or irrational behavior. Kids need proper face to face interaction in their life to develop communication and social skills. Parents should consider limiting screen time and encouraging outdoor exercise to ensure the healthy development of a child.

Negative Effects of Screen Time on Children

Too much screen time at an early age impacts various aspects of a child’s health. Language skills and learning development can be impeded, and behavioral, sleep, and physical health issues are abound.

Early Childhood Development

Children under the age of 3 should continuously be exploring and taking in new information from their surroundings. In early childhood development stages, children learn the most by talking with and imitating the adults and other children around them. By spending too much time in front of a television program that their brains can’t quite comprehend yet, toddlers lose out on important steps in their development, so it is best to wait until after the age of 2 to introduce any kind of device with screens to avoid any lasting developmental consequences.

Language

Reciprocal communication and conversation are essential for language development in children. When placed in front of a screen, kids lose out on the interactive day-to-day experiences that help to shape their understanding of language and conversations. It can also impede reading comprehension and writing skills.

Ability to Learn

Evidence shows that elementary-aged children with greater exposure to screens are more likely to experience learning difficulties. Developmental and behavioral pediatrics expert Dr. Jennifer Cross claims extended screen time exposure can lead to worsening grades in reading and writing subjects and attention deficit issues like ADHD.

Behavioral Issues

Consuming high levels of violent content like movies or video games can create potential behavioral issues in children. Kids who spend too much time on tech devices are often violent, lack social and communicative skills, and act irrationally.

Sleep Impacts

Extended screen time can be extremely detrimental to children’s sleep schedules, so it is best to turn off all devices at least two hours before bedtime. Blue light from screens keeps the brain awake longer, cutting into valuable recharging time. Lack of sleep is attributed to cognitive issues, obesity, depression, social isolation, and other serious problems.

Physical Health Issues

One of the most concerning issues facing young people in America today is childhood obesity. Addiction to technology like mobile devices and video games can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. A lack of structured and unstructured exercise, over-extended screen time allowances, and a lack of motivation for movement are attributed to obesity in the youngest generation.

Suggested Screen Time by Age Group

The World Health Organization (WHO) provides guidelines on suggested screen time for children of various age groups. Children under two years old should have no screen time at all beyond a friendly FaceTime with family.

Past two years old, parents should co-view content with their children to ensure that the child understands what they see and can implement new social skills into their daily lives. Adolescents can have greater access to devices, but make sure to set limits and implement outdoor activities into daily schedules.

Age Suggested Screen Time
Newborn-18 months None
18-24 months None
2-5 years 1 hour of high-quality content to be co-viewed with a parent.
6-12 years 1-1.5 hours of high-quality content to be co-viewed with a parent. Set consistent limitations and schedule outside time daily.
13-18 years Up to 2 hours of screen time with consistent limits and “screen-free” times or zones within the household.

How to Limit Screen Time

Children, and especially teenagers, have a hard time following rules. That’s why it is crucial to set and stick to screen time limitations from the very start of childhood. You can monitor use and limit screen time in the following ways:

  • Monitor time on devices using time-tracking parental control applications.
  • Remove devices or shut off the home’s internet at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Implement an earning system where children can access devices only after completing chores or homework.
  • Schedule time for physical activity every day.
    • Physical Activity games like Fitivities or Twister are great to play alone or with a family.
  • Enroll your child(ren) in afterschool programs, activities, or team sports to reduce screen time and improve physical health.

Conclusion

Early extended exposure to screens and devices can hurt the growing brains of young children and teens. It is important to set screen time limits and practice online safety with your kids. Remember to stay consistent with screen time scheduling and provide ample outdoor time. If getting outdoor exercise is not an optionyou’ve run out of ideas for physical activity, look for virtual physical activity programsphysical activity programs for your child to participate in from home.

Technology has proven to be incredibly beneficial in school and home settings, but only when properly implemented and monitored. Stop any potential adverse effects of screen time before starting by creating a screen schedule and encouraging your child to get outside instead.

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