From children to adults to the elderly, most of us today spend much of our daily time on the screens of the many digital devices we own. We are so occupied and consuming so much content from our digital screens that it's easy to forget the side effects of too much 'screen time,' especially on kids.
However, with research showing that excessive screen time can impair brain development or even lead to some serious medical issues in the long run, it's high time we need to stop ignoring the risks of over screen time of kids.
According to a new study, small children who spend three or more hours a day on a device may end up living a less healthy life. Another study conducted at the University of Michigan claimed that children under the age of two were spending over double the amount of time looking at screens compared to kids 20 years ago. This average of 3.05 hours per day for 2014 is more than double the time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The Endemic Effect
To contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, many schools worldwide have been closed since March 2020. This closure has made the situation worse; it has increased the screen time usages; children are locked behind the doors, their playtime has been reduced, they cannot meet their friends, and they attend online classes over the screen, which is inevitable.
Now they spend much of their time on television, phones and other screens. It is very important to monitor children's screen time for their vision and general health and well-being in such a scenario.
This article highlights the major signs of screen over time by kids and tips to limit usage time.
After testing the impact of screen use on children between the ages of 4 and 11, the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development came with the following red flags of over screen time along with the information from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media.
A brief overview of the warning signs is as follows:
- Your child tries to get on a device right after they wake up.
- Your child complains or throws a temper tantrum when you tell them it's time to turn off the device.
- He or she is always thinking or talking about favourite shows, games, or videos.
- You've caught your child sneaking a device or lying about how long he or she has been on the device.
- Your child seems only to smile, laugh or show signs of happiness while using a screen or seems lost, frustrated or anxious when not using a device.
- He or she uses the device to feel better after having a bad day.
- Your child isn't interested in other things, especially things he or she used to enjoy.
- Your child constantly asks to use a device and wants more and more screen time.
- You notice your child appears tired throughout the day or isn't getting enough sleep.
- Your child complains of headaches and neck pain.
Other Warning Signs and Consequences
Physical strain to your eyes and body
Sitting idle in the corner of your house for long hours and watching over a screen affect your body, especially your eyes. Screen overdoses strain the eyes and make them dry and damage the retina and blurred vision. Be careful if your child suffers from this problem.
The more time your child has on screen, the more it will impact their sleep pattern. The blue light emitted by your devices interferes with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin in your body and causes sleep depressions.
Heightened risk of obesity and other health problems
When kids spend the most time on digital devices, they miss out on physical activity and exercise. This ultimately helps to increase weight gain, especially if they tend to munch a bit while watching TV.
Furthermore, the numerous fast-food commercials on TV/mobile devices also tempt many of us into eating more unhealthily. Simply laying two more additional hours of a screen each day can significantly increase the risk of becoming obese and other medical conditions; it's all inter-related.
Loss of interest
Overexposure to screens makes kid sit back and indulge themselves in the gaming and internet world. It keeps them involved most of the time and makes them less interested in other things. Check whether the "screen time" is the only thing that motivates your child; if books or other activities don't get them nearly as excited, then they might be too invested in screen use.
Impairment in cognitive abilities
One of the most frightening consequences of over screening is its effect on mental health. Over screen time alters the very structure of your brain by causing the grey matter, which is responsible for the shrinking of cognitive abilities and malformation to the white matter that serves as an essential network to the brain's signal communication.
Furthermore, this manifest in lesser concentration, weak memory, slows processing of information and weak impulse control. These effects are of particular concern to children, who are still developing their brains.
Weakened socialization skills
The use of digital screens is a largely solitary activity – it limits real interactions to a large extent as children care more about what happens on the screen. This could increase antisocial tendencies and withdrawal sentiments. With children, in particular, this invaluable opportunity to develop important social skills by playing with their friends is lost when they spend more time on digital devices rather.
Weakness in emotional judgment
Excessive screen usage also influences the ability to record and process emotions. Desensitization to violent content is a particularly worrisome side effect of the impaired emotional judgment. As per scientific research, exposure to violent media content can also increase aggression levels, especially in younger children and adolescents. It is likely, to have kids watching such content intentionally or unintentionally while using digital devices for long hours.
Delayed learning in young children
As already mentioned, usages of the screen affect brain development. When it comes to younger kids, the brain's structure gets altered due to over screen time; eventually, it affects their learning abilities. Particularly, children who are more exposed to TV/digital devices have more difficulty in learning languages. The delayed learning can be as much as 50% higher for every 30 minutes spent watching the screen. Some may argue that allowing kids to watch certain educational programs would do well; perhaps this is not a good way to educate them. Kids learn better by exploring the content physically; allowing them to watch shows in one or another way hinders their brain development.
Spending long hours over the screens can also impact how kids perceive themselves. The time lost could have been spent establishing relations with others, exploring and nurturing passions, and creating new experiences that lead to gaining self-confidence and develop the brain. But, spending the most time on social media sites, particularly, such a problem is exacerbated because the kid may end up worrying more about their virtual self-image instead of the real one. For kids and youth, cyber threats/bullying and self-esteem problems are of particular concern.
Now, the question arises how to limit their screen time and grant them a healthy life? Few experts recommended measures.
Consider your child's maturity level
As you plan to work on your children's screen time, consider your child's level of maturity first. Ideally, as your child gets older, he or she should be able to take on more responsibility and make rational decisions. However, this does not always happen. If your child is irresponsible, immature, and has an attitude, think of all the negative ways digital technology can increase this. Ensure that your child can handle all of the responsibilities that come with the technology.
Develop a family plan
Another best way to limit screen time is to create a family screen plan for everyone in your home. The screen layout should show the basic rules for using the screen for your children. It should've clear guidelines of how much time you allot to your child to spend on a device, when and where the device is welcome, and how active you are in your child's screen time. For example, the AAP recommends only one hour per day of screen time for children between the ages of 2 and 5, with no screen time for children under 18 months. Your screen layout could reflect these rules or allow more screen hours while making dinner and night hours out of bounds for devices. You have to decide what you think is best for your children.
Please keep track of how much time your kids are spending on their devices and give them the tools to monitor their usage to get better at time management. Awareness of screen time is the first fundamental element. You may use the Kids app that displays the time spent online and on which apps or Parental app, which lets parents limit overall entertainment screen time on any device with a couple of clicks.
Converse with your kids
Sit your kids down and have a real conversation about what they consume so much and ask them why they are so fanatical with it. It can help you understand their motivation and find a way of providing an alternative. Also, explain how their behaviour affects the family at large. Encourage better behaviour by exchanging more time by doing chores or being physically active for more time on their devices.
As a parent, you must check your kids' mobile usage. To prevent or deal with screen abuse in children is to be fussy about what they are looking at on the device. Your child may detect inappropriate behaviour in many popular children's videos. They may also fall victim to the addictive qualities of low-quality, violent or adult content. So, it's your responsibility to make sure your kids aren't watching videos that they shouldn't be watching.
Let them earn screen time
In this digital age, children are easily provided with a phone or tablet. For example, most parents today purchase children's phones just because they want one. But, in such a scenario, you must make your kids earn that screen time, ask them to do chores to earn their screen time, straighten up their room, and put their toys away. If he/she is a teen, make them take out the garbage or clean the room. It teaches them that nothing is gratuitous in this lifetime. They should know that you own these devices and that they only lease them.
Put firmer restrictions on when your kids can use their devices, especially during family meals time or other important events. Establish a clear timetable for screen time usage. Set times when all members of the family (including parents!) must be free of devices.
Ask your kids what they like to play and organize similar activities where they can be social with their friends or family members — without having to be on their phones. This may include indoor play or swimming or running inside the house campus or some other physical activity where it is difficult to check your devices. It is particularly potent if they earn something they want while doing the activity. (More time on the screen, of course)
If you are looking for great ways to manage the excess use of your child's screen, then the above-mentioned ways are perfect for you, for sure. Do try them.