Parenting has never been an easy task. With the emergence of technology, the impact of screen time on children and their well-being is becoming a widespread parental worry. Children spend hours on gadgets like iPads, smartphones, and other devices that can be extremely addictive.
This issue has only grown since the pandemic, as many youngsters relied on screens for academic work and weren’t permitted to spend time with their extended family or friends. According to the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, there was an increase in average children’s screen time by 3.2 hours a day. But, what exactly does it mean for your kids in the long term? What effects does spending much time in front of the screens have on your child’s mental health?
What Is Screen Time?
Screen time is a catch-all term used to describe the time we spend in front of screens. It includes watching television, playing video games, using a computer, and other activities.
The average American child watches television for three hours every day. All screen time combined might range from 5 to 7 hours per day. While children’s access to devices is transforming their environment and giving them limitless access to knowledge and possibilities, it is easy for youngsters to be overstimulated and overlook other enjoyable and healthy pursuits.
Screen frequently restricts a child’s ability to be active or spend time outside with others. Low amounts of exercise and social interaction might harm their mental well-being in the long term.
Ways a Child May Be Getting Screen Time
Children get exposed to screens in various ways. They include:
- Passive Consumption: It includes reading, listening to music, or watching television
- Interactive Consumption: Includes online gaming and web surfing
- Communication: Using a video chat or social media.
- Content creation: Utilizing devices to create art or music.
- Educational Screen time: It involves learning activities, including classes, research, and group discussions
Impacts of Screen Time on Mental Health
Screen time is an essential and inescapable part of a child’s life, mainly as they grow older. Older children may require more time on a tablet to finish homework or on phones to communicate with friends. However, taking regular breaks from the screens is critical as excessive use of computers, smartphones, and other mobile devices may pose a risk factor to your child’s mental well-being.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following guidelines with regards to children’s watch time:
- No screen time for children two years and below
- No more than one hour of screen time each day for kids aged 2 to 4
- Children aged six through 18 should have no more than two hours of screen time daily.
Excessive screen time causes sensory overload; children struggle to focus and become mentally exhausted, frequently resulting in irrational outbursts of anger and violent conduct. Some of the effects of too much screen time on your child’s mental health include:
1. Anxiety and Depression
Recent research shows that kids who spend seven hours every day on screens are twice more likely to show signs of anxiety and depression.
Children who spend much time on their screens rarely have time for mental breaks, connect with their surroundings, and have peaceful and quiet minds. They have fewer opportunities for thinking, contemplating, and reflecting. They spend more time online in impersonal relationships than physically socializing with others.
Some of the behaviors associated with anxiety and depression in kids include:
- Feeling hopeless, unhappy, or irritable most times
- Feeling tired, sluggish, tense, and restless most of the time
- Avoiding fun activities
- Showing self-harming and self-destructive behavior
- Changing eating habits-eating more or less
- Struggling with concentration
- Being worried about bad things happening
- Changes in sleep habits
- Having low-self esteem
2. Deprived Sleep
When the sun goes down, human circadian rhythms and melatonin production begin. However, blue screen light prevents the production of melatonin, which might keep you up at night. Additionally, playing video games or watching TV keeps our bodies and brains awake, active, and less sleepy.
A study shows that babies aged 6 to 12 months who watch screens around the evening had much less time sleeping at night than those who weren’t. Late-night screens also affect sleep in preteens and teenagers. Poor sleep and excessive social media use might hurt a student’s behavioral conduct and academic performance. Lack of sleep may also cause anxiety and depression.
3. Developmental Delays and Learning
Development happens more rapidly in children, particularly those below three years. Young children learn by exploring their surroundings, observing the adults around them, and imitating them. While kids can watch TV as early as six months old, they usually don’t understand the content until they’re over two years.
A child’s capacity to observe and engage in the ordinary daily activities that help them understand the world may be hindered by excessive screen time, creating tunnel vision that may harm their general development. It also impacts their capacity to learn new things, social interactions, and linguistic growth.
4. Short-Term Memory Loss and Decline in Cognitive Ability
About 17.4% of American Children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have a mental disorder every year. Excessive screen time affects the brain’s basic structure by shrinking the grey matter, which controls cognitive functions.
Also, it deforms the white matter, which acts as the network for all the signal communication in the brain. This shows up as a lack of focus, poor information processing, weaker memory, and poor impulse control. These effects are concerning in youngsters because their growth and development depend on strong mental health.
How to Limit Screen Time for Kids
Reduce Your Phone Use
Children imitate their parent’s behavior since parents are the most significant people in their lives. They will imitate if they observe you spending all day in front of the screen because they will assume that is acceptable.
Emphasize Enough Sleep, a Nutritious Diet, and Exercise
These three are necessary for optimal brain growth, development, and quality health. And all three can also be impacted by too much screen time. Children exposed to computers mostly eat fewer vegetables and fruits, more fast food, less sleep, and less physical activity. As a result, it’s crucial to include screen time restrictions and good living choices in daily activities.
Stay Away From Screens During Mealtime, Bedtime, or Family Time
Think about establishing a screen-free time for your family that includes an agreed curfew. It’s crucial to maintain a balance between online time and offline time.
Choose a High-Quality Program and Watch It With Them
If you will allow your kid’s screen time, choose age-appropriate programs, apps, and games and watch along with them to grasp what they see. Join in with your youngsters and comment on what you hear and see to help them understand what they watch. Engaging them after watching a program also helps them retain the information.
Involvement in Outdoor Activities
Do you realize that physical activities have a direct relationship with mood? Endorphins, also referred to as happy hormones, are released when we move our bodies. Take a brain break if your youngsters are anxious about academics or appear angry or upset. Physical activity helps revitalize the body and mind.
Some of the suggestions include:
- Taking a bike ride or family walks
- Consider children’s yoga
- Play a favorite playlist and dance with the kids
- Plant some vegetables, fruits, or herbs
- Make a scavenger hunt
See more outdoor and indoor activity suggestions.
Technologies provide enormous opportunities for us to interact, engage, and bond. However, we should be careful about incorporating this technology into our lives. Addiction to screens and mental health is real and can have implications for your child’s health in the long run.
If your child’s screen time is interfering with their daily activities, harming their social skills, or if they isolate themselves, consult with your pediatrician right away. Medical Health Associates of WNY has a team of qualified and experienced pediatricians devoted to providing you with the best medical care and wellness services you deserve.