What research says about the impact on health and development
Technology can be a great source of learning and entertainment for children, but there are health implications of screen time that parents should consider. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children ages 3 to 18 years should spend no more than two hours a day in front of a screen. For children ages 2 and under, experts recommend no screen time at all.
Kids are not only starting to use technology at a younger age, but they are also using it in more situations, both at home and at school.
Having a better understanding of where experts’ recommendations come from may help you decide what limits you might want to set in your home when it comes to screen time.
Advantages of Screen Time
There are countless benefits that can be garnered from using technology. For instance, computers can be used to do research, play online math games, and improve language skills. Television can offer educational programs such as documentaries and other educational materials. Even video games can encourage developmental skills such as hand-eye coordination. Some motion-controlled, active games can also promote physical activity such as dancing.
In a pinch, when parents have to get dinner made or take a few minutes to answer emails, it’s also a convenient babysitter.
Reasons to Limit Screen Time
While these advantages are valuable, there are important reasons why experts encourage parents to not let kids overdo it.
Getting enough sleep can be challenging for busy kids. They often have homework and after-school activities crammed into their weekdays and extracurricular activities and sports on weekends. Seeing as how kids average as much as three to four hours a day watching TV, screen time can easily end up bleeding into bedtime.
Moreover, electronic stimulation has been shown to interfere with both falling asleep and staying awake.
When someone uses technology such as computers, games, and TV, they are not interacting with others. Since finding good quality time can be difficult for many families, allowing technology to cut into those moments is something parents may want to prevent as much as possible.
While it can be fun to have a family movie night or play a video game together, the fact is that screen time means less face-to-face interaction.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, made a stunning discovery when they studied a group of sixth-graders. Their study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that those who went five days without screen time were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids with regular access to technology.
Studies have shown that too much screen time may be associated with attention problems.
One study from Iowa State University found this to be particularly true of children who already have difficulties paying attention or who tend to act impulsively. Video games were the primary focus of the study, though the researchers do state that any electronic media may have similar effects.
Children who watch a lot of television are more likely to have lower grades and read fewer books. Further, research has shown that cutting down kids’ screen time may improve kids’ health and grades.
More screen time has been associated with reduced physical activity and a higher risk of obesity in kids.
Advertising and Inappropriate Content
Many television shows depict sexuality and violence, as well as stereotypes or drug and alcohol use. Many commercials also promote junk food and toys in powerful and alluring ways that are designed to get kids to want these items.
Ways to Limit Technology
Admittedly, it is easy to simply turn on the TV or let your kids play a video game when they complain about being bored. However, there are many options when it comes to finding alternative forms of entertainment if and when you choose to.
Letting kids use technology with limits can be achieved if you keep some of these key tips in mind:
- Do not put a TV in your child’s room. Having a TV in the bedroom has been linked to a number of problems including lower test scores, sleeping problems, and obesity.
- Turn it off. When the kids are not watching a specific program, turn off the television. Keep it off during mealtimes and especially when they are studying or doing homework.
- Help your child choose a video game or a show. The best way to know what your child is watching or playing is by helping her pick out a show or a game. When picking out a new family movie or game, read the reviews, watch previews, or ask other parents. Above all, know your child and trust your own instincts on what is appropriate.
- Place time limits. Whether it’s one hour of TV and video games a day or a couple of hours a week, limit the amount of time your child spends with technology. More importantly, be committed and stick to those times you set.
- Opt for alternatives to technology-based activities. Find great ways to spend family time together without tech devices, such as by playing board games or enjoying the outdoors.
A last word of advice..
Even though technology can provide wonderful opportunities, it can also have negative effects on health and well-being. While you encourage your children to unplug, keep in mind that you can set a good example for them. Try to limit your own screen time and do your best to create non-tech centered activities for the entire family.