Can Too Much Screen Time Affect Our Kids Health and Wellness?
I have been asked by the Social Media Task Force to focus this blog post on screen time and the effect on our children’s health. I have researched this topic over the last year with the focus on “Finding the Balance.” Karen J. Reiber, Media/Technology Specialist, Wyoming Middle School. Check out the infographic for an easy summary of information: http://www.easel.ly/browserEasel/2276122
As a parent, an educator and digital immigrant, I know that I have become dependent on technology. I think back just over the last 15 years on how important technology has become to my job, my entertainment, communication among my family members and just overall making my life easier. When I think about the time digital natives, our children, now spend in front of a screen it gives me pause to understand how screen time affects our children’s well-being. You may be surprised that on average today our children between the ages of eight and eighteen, spend on average 7 hours and 38 minutes a day (Kaiser Family Foundation) in front of a screen and this might be conservative, some estimate teens are in front of screens as much as 11 hours a day (Saldier).
Screen time is defined as the amount of time spent watching TV, playing video games, working/playing on the computers or mobile devices (including phones). Researchers have been studying what affects this screen time has been having on the health and wellness of our kids—it may affect sleep, attention, obesity and mental well-being. The more time in front of screens the more negative indicators increase (Yang).
For every hour in front of a screen it means one less hour of physical activity, increasing the risk for childhood obesity. Time in front of a TV is also associated with increased snacking. Teens who choose video games that involve movement may lessen the sedentary factor of video games.
The constant connection throughout the day and especially during the hour before sleep is causing our children to have difficulty falling asleep and from getting a good night’s rest. The blue light that is emitted from TV’s, computers, phones, readers and video games is disrupting sleep. Mari Hysing of Uni Research Health states, “The light from the screens may directly affect our circadian rhythms, and teenagers may be especially sensitive.” She goes on to state, “Using a device in the hour before bed was associated with 13 to 52 percent increase in the likelihood of needing more than 60 minutes to fall asleep.” In their research it is reported that 90% of girls and 80% of boys used their phone or laptop within the hour before sleep. It is not just the light from devices but the mind can become stimulated from responding to text, emails, or playing video games. Screen time has an accumulative effect, put simply, Mark Rosekind, PhD from NASA Fatigue Countermeasures says, “One of the most simple but important reasons technology affects our sleep is cognitive stimulation” (Hatfield).
Mental Well Being
Dr. Victoria Dunckley, diagnoses “electronic screen syndrome”, which in children manifests as sensory overload. They often display symptoms that include impulsiveness, moodiness, and difficulty paying attention. These children are in sensory overload, from the lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper aroused nervous system. Dr. Dunckley backs up her research with neuroimaging that shows actual damage to the brain tissue. A recent blog by a teacher turned administrator talks about “butterfly brain”, where students are constantly moving from one subject to another and they lose focus on what the original task was. The impact of “butterfly brain” can affect cognitive functioning, memory formation, focus and attention. The blog goes on to talk about if most of a student’s socialization occurs online—interpersonal relationships might also be impaired. (“The Mindful Classroom.”)
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states more than just 2 hours a day of screen time may cause concentration issues in school because of the “flickering lights, changes in imagery, instant gratification and the kids always want the same level of brain stimulation”(Ghezzi). The AAP study also touches on that fact that media violence in TV and gaming can bring out aggressiveness in our children.
In relation specifically to social media, anxiety seems to be a common theme. Robert Faris, sociologist reports, “that there is a lot of anxiety of what is going on online, when they’re not actually online, so that leads to compulsive checking.” Teens want to know if their posts are getting likes, are their friends doing something without them and if anything mean is being said about them (Hadad). In a British study, “The more teens engaged with social media and the more they were emotionally invested in site participation, the greater risk for impaired sleep, poor self-esteem, depression and/or anxiety (Mozes).
With the wide availability of smartphones, the Pew Institute reports that 24% of teens go online (Lenhart) “almost constantly,” so, as parents we need to assist our children to limit their time, make good media decisions, look at how they are using their screen time (school work versus entertainment) provide alternative activities and model those behaviors that we want our children to follow. Guidelines for screen time? The AAP suggests no more than one or two hours per day of entertainment media for children and teens. Children under the age of two should have no screen time during this critical time of brain development.
Most of our teens who consume all types of media are well adjusted, have lots of friends, balance their on-line and offline time and feel good about social media. As parents we need to be aware that screen time, which includes social media, can be detrimental. We need to be vigilant for watching changes in our kids’ well-being and know this is both a quality and quantity issue.
Specifics for limiting screen time? Look for some suggestions in future blog posts.
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