Walk into any pediatrician’s office and your children’s doctor is likely to say something like “and how much screen time are they getting?” And if your household is typical, chances are that your answer will be too high.
It’s a tricky balance. On the one hand, technology has lots of benefits. Children can use it to learn quickly, remain social outside of school hours, and access from the palm of their hand information that not so long ago could only be found at the library.
And yet technology has its dark side as well. In this article, we take a look at how limiting your children’s screen time can be good for their physical and mental health.
Bad For Their Brains
Covid-19 produced a radical uptick in smartphone usage. Perhaps due to anxiety or an increased feeling of urgency around remaining in contact with loved ones, people have had a difficult time keeping cell phones out of their hands since spring of 2020.
The average adult now checks their phone once every ten minutes. Teenagers, spend seven hours a day on their phones.
Doing almost anything for seven hours a day isn’t good, and researchers have already identified a variety of issues resulting from the average teen’s addiction to their phone.
High levels of screen time are strongly associated with:
This issue has been particularly pronounced since the pandemic when a practice known as “doom scrolling” became common. Doom scrolling occurs when someone habitually scans the internet looking for bad news. In teenagers, it is associated with high levels of anxiety.
Bad Sleep Habits
Excessive phone use has also been shown to disrupt sleep patterns. Teenagers with phone addiction report disrupted sleep.
Fear of Missing Out
Teenagers with FOMO is nothing new. For decades teens at home have been wondering what they are missing, what their friends are doing, etc. Well. Now they know. Social media gives children around the clock access to pictures and videos of what their classmates are doing at all hours of the day. While Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc have made it easier for kids to stay in touch—particularly during the lockdown phases of the pandemic—the cost for some teens can be quite high. Kids with high levels of screen time and social media use often worry that they are being left out.
Bad For Their Bodies
Excessive technology use is also bad for teenagers’ bodies. In the 1970s only five percent of children were considered obese. That number has swelled to 20%. One can’t lay all of the blame at Apple and Facebook’s feet, but there is certainly an association between high levels of technology use and obesity.
It’s a relatively simple equation. Teenagers that spend most of their day with their phone in their hands, or parked in front of a computer are not using that time for exercise, or even physical activity of any kind.
Experts recommend substituting one hour of screen time each day for an hour of exercise instead. This, coupled with other healthy lifestyle adjustments, like diet and better sleep can help fight back against teen obesity and all of the problems it creates.
There’s No Magic Number
It’s important to understand that there is no magic number that means the difference between healthy technological use, and a bad habit. For example, some studies suggest that two hours is a good goal to shoot for.
It might be. But consider the broader context of this equation. The majority of high schools now have students on tablets or other mobile technology devices.
For seven hours straight they are typing notes, watching educational videos, and taking tests. All from a screen.
But that’s good screen time. That’s OK.
Sure. Like it or not there is nothing to be done about tech in schools and it even comes with its own host of benefits. Fewer books, easier learning, access to school-related communication. What parents really need to concern themselves with is recreational screen time. Social media, silly videos, etc.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to grasp how much of that their kids are getting. Say, for example, that a high school student is at school for seven hours every day. Five of them, are in class and using their devices appropriately.
But, they also have lunch, study hall, and ten-minute passing periods. This means it’s not inconceivable for them to have had two hours of screen time before they even get home.
If they come home and are allowed an additional two hours, they’ve already doubled the recommended daily allotment. Add in whatever time they spend doing homework, and that show your family likes to watch together on Netflix, and it’s very easy for a teen to spend almost all of their waking time parked in front of screens.
Technology has become so ingrained in day-to-day activities that limits alone are not enough to correct the problem.
A Better Solution
Limiting the number of hours teens spend on their phones is a good start. However, parents will likely find better results by limiting the way their teens use their phones. By setting specific timers for social media use, or YouTube videos, parents can monitor and reduce their children’s exposure to the types of content that are strongly associated with high levels of anxiety and depression.
Many popular phones, including iPhones feature screen time analytics pages that make it easy for parents to see how and when their kids are using their phones. Additionally, there are a wide variety of applications available that allow parents to set timers, site blockers, and other restrictions that guide how their children use technology.
Play Image from Pixabay
Guest Author Bio
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.