How Screen Time Affects Kids1Kid's Health

How Screen Time Affects Kids’ Physical and Mental Health

Humans and their smartphones aren’t always a healthy combination, and strong research has suggested that looking at screens for hours a day can have some serious health and mental health consequences.

Even some of the makers of these products have admitted guilt about their creations, and confessed that they very much limit how their kids use them.

A new study finds that time spent on screens is linked to a slightly negative shift in brain connectivity, while reading is linked to more beneficial changes.

The researchers had families rate how much time their kids spent on screens like smartphones, tablets, computers, and TV, and how much time they spent reading actual books.

The children’s brains were scanned, and it turned out that screen time was linked to poorer connectivity in areas that govern language and cognitive control, while reading, on the other hand, was linked to better connectivity in these regions.

Today’s children have grown up with a vast array of electronic devices at their fingertips, and they can’t imagine a world without smartphones, tablets, and the internet.

While the advances in technology and digital devices can provide endless hours of entertainment and they can offer educational content, unrestricted screen time can be harmful.

The Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time

Whether it is the TV or their smartphones, too much screen time could be harmful to children and adults alike. Here are some negative effects:

Obesity

Too much time engaging in sitting or inactive activity, such as watching TV and playing video games, can be a risk factor for becoming obese or overweight.

Sleeping Problems

Many parents have formed the habit of using TV to wind down before bed, however, screen time before bed can backfire, since the light emitted from screens interferes with the sleep cycle in the brain and can lead to insomnia and other sleep problems.

Behavior and Educational Problems

Survey has shown that elementary school-age children who watch TV or use a computer more than two hours per day are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems. There is a high possibility of excessive TV viewing leading to increased bullying behavior.

Exposure to violent TV shows, music, and video games can cause children to become desensitized to it, and eventually, use violence to solve problems. They may simply imitate what they see on TV.

The same survey, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, also found that elementary school-age children who have televisions in their bedrooms do worse on academic testing, on the average.

Addiction Dangers

Early screen viewing is likely to lead to long periods of viewing for the rest of your life. The way you view screens when you are young forms the basis or habits you pick up as you mature.

An early taste for entertainment screen media can lead to changes in the brain that stay with you forever. Your life may even be shorter as a result.

Like other addictions, screen time creates significant changes in brain chemistry, especially, in the release of dopamine (pleasure chemical).

Dopamine is produced when we see something that is interesting or new, but it also has a second function as the neurochemical involved in most addictions.

There are concerns that this dopamine being produced every single day for many years may change the circuitry in a child’s brain and make them more dependent on screen media.

More recent pieces of research have shown strong links between time spent on screens and depression and suicidality in youth and teens. A study reported that teens who spent more time on screens in the form of social media, internet, texting, and gaming thought about suicide a lot more than kids who didn’t.

About 48% of those who spent five or more hours a day on their phones had thought about suicide or made plans for it, while teens who spent more time doing sports, homework, socializing with friends in real life, and going to church had a lower risk for both depression and suicide.

Establish Screen Time Rules For The Whole Family

Parents who want to reduce their children’s screen time need to establish rules to reduce the risk of later health and psychological issues, and the question is: how much screen time is healthy for children?

In 2013 the US Department of Health recommended that children under two years of age should not be in front of a screen at all, and over that age, the maximum leisure screen time should be no more than two hours per day.

Here are a few rules you might want to establish to curb screen time: 

  • No screen time in the car.
  • No digital devices during family meals.
  • No electronics use during family fun nights.
  • No screens allowed in bedrooms.
  • In addition, consider creating a screen-free night every now and then. This could be good for everyone’s physical and emotional health, as well as your family’s relationships.

These increases in physical and mental health issues among teens are very alarming, and teens are telling us they are struggling. We need to take that very seriously.

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