Screen Time for Kids; Dangers vs Benefits

How much is too much screen time for kids? What are the benefits? What are the dangers of allowing kids too much time on screens? Read ahead as we unpack it all here. You might be very surprised!

Introduction

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become incredibly clear just how important technology is in our world today. With many kids spending months engaged in online learning and parents utilising platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to keep connected with others whilst working from home, it is not surprising that screens have become a part of our daily lives. Whilst most people are relying on screens for work, study and entertainment, we are left to wonder how much screen time is considered dangerous for our children? Read on to learn about the dangers and benefits of screen time for kids.

What is classified as ‘screen time’?

‘Screen time’ refers to any activity that is done in front of a screen. This includes watching TV, using an iPad, working on a computer and playing video games. There are some kinds of screen time that are less obvious, such as the time spent scrolling through social media or checking emails on a phone, but this still counts towards an overall daily quota. Have you actually worked out how much time you spend each day on a screen? The answer might shock you.

Screen Time for kids

What are the dangers?

Engaging in too much screen time can have quite significant negative impacts on a child. Whilst excessive screen time itself is a problem, we must also consider the kinds of screen time that kids are experiencing, including access to the internet.

 Research has told us that excessive screen time can:

–     Impact on sleep, making it difficult for a child to fall asleep at night.

–     Raise a child’s risk of attention problems, anxiety and even depression.

–     Increase a child’s risk of becoming obese.

–     Expose children to negative or dangerous content when left unsupervised on a screen with internet access.

–     Lead to a risk of bullying through social media networks and Apps.

–     Result in chronic neck and back pain due to poor posture whilst using a screen.

–     Lead to desensitisation to violence when exposed to violent shows, movies and games. 

–     Can cause eye strain.

You can read more about the dangers of too much screen time here: The Harmful Effects of Too Much Screen Time for Kids (verywellfamily.com)

Screen Time for kids

Should children under 2 have any screen time?

In Australia, guidelines for screen time can be found in the Australian 24-hour movement guidelines for the early years, which is focused on children from birth to 17 years. This guideline was developed based on research related to physical activity, sleep, children’s development, health and wellbeing. The guideline recommends that children under the age of two years should have no screen time. You can find the 24-hour movement guidelines here: Too much time on screens? Screen time effects and guidelines for children and young people | Child Family Community Australia (aifs.gov.au).

Screen Time for kids

How much screen time should kids have?

The 24-hour movement guidelines recommend that children aged between 2-5 years should have no more than one hour per day of screen time. For children aged 5-17 years, the recommendation increases to 2 hours per day. Most Australian children spend quite a bit more time than this each day engaged with a screen. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that in most cases, approximately 30% of a child’s time awake is spent in front of a screen. They also reveal that TV is the main source of screen time and that this increases on weekends.

What are some of the benefits?

Whilst it is common to focus on the negative aspects of screen time for children, there are certainly some benefits to consider as well. Having access to technology such as computers and the internet has come with great educational value. Information can be found with just the click of a mouse, making research and learning more accessible than ever. COVID-19 has also taught us that screens can be extremely beneficial for remote learning and provide a great way of keeping connected with the outside world whilst remaining at home.

Screen Time for kids

There is also some evidence that suggests that playing video games can be good for motor skills and coordination, but this of course is dependent on the kinds of games that are being played. There are also a wide range of Smartphone apps that can be useful for helping children adopt and develop healthy behaviours, such as the Spriggy app which has been designed to help children learn about effective financial management. You can learn about Spriggy here: Spriggy – Pocket Money. Updated.

Most parents will tell you that there are benefits for themselves in relation to a child’s screen time. Occupying a child with an Ipad whilst waiting at the doctors or being able to play a movie during a long car trip can be very helpful for parents, but as with anything, it is about having clear limits and boundaries to ensure that screen time does not become excessive.

What are the symptoms of too much screen time?

There are a few tell-tale signs to look for that might indicate that your child may be spending too much time in front of a screen and these include:

–     Your child often appears overstimulated

–     Your child demonstrates behaviours such aggression, irritability or emotional shut down.

–     Your child appears anxious.

–     Your child has difficulty making eye-contact after spending time on a screen.

–     Your child is having trouble falling asleep.

–     Your child complains of headaches, muscle pain or digestive issues.

–     Your child shows signs of repetitive stress injuries from playing games.

–     Your child prefers screen time over face-to-face interaction.

–     Your child reacts strongly when they have no screen time

Whilst this list is certainly not definitive, these are just some things for parents to keep an eye out for to help determine if too much screen time is having a negative impact on their child.

Screen Time for kids

Is online learning too much screen time?

Maintaining healthy amounts of screen time is certainly one challenge of distance learning. Fortunately, a clear distinction is made between sedentary screen time and educational screen time. Researchers have found that educational screen time is linked to kids doing better in school and has no negative health effects. Contrary to this, passive screen time is linked to poor learning outcomes and health concerns. This means that online learning doesn’t count as too much screen time, as long as the child is having access to other non-screen activities and has opportunities to be physically active. Here is an interesting study about the different kinds of screen time and their impact on children: https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-019-0881-7

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Can too much screen time cause anxiety?

The research around mood and digital device use is still emerging, but some recent studies have linked the excessive use of digital devices to an increased risk for anxiety and depression. This is further increased by those who engage with social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and many people have reported a significant increase in wellbeing after disconnecting from these networks.

How does screen time affect children’s social skills?

Excessive use of screen time can certainly reduce a child’s person-to-person interactions and therefore it is not far-reaching to assume that this can have an impact on their developing social skills. Learning about the world is a social activity, so engaging with others is so important for growing empathy and compassion. Whilst merely access to screen time does not necessarily impact a child’s social development, excessive use could be problematic. Ensuring that your child has plenty of opportunities for face-to-face conversations and play with others will ensure that their social development is not impeded by a reasonable amount of screen time.

Of course during a pandemic and lockdown periods, this can become very difficult to balance. Andy doesn’t have any siblings at home and the only way he has been able to connect with peers during the 4 month Sydney lockdown is through online gaming. This has been very isolating at times, not to mention anti social as he has tried to have conversations while his peers have been obsessed with particular games, they have excluded him for not playing particular games and this has caused a degree of anxiety, disappointment and sadness, while feeling isolated from friends and disconnected. During this period I made sure I had plenty of conversations with Andy about bullying types of behaviour (You can read my article on bullying here), on building his resilience and helping to understand that a lockdown lifestyle is far from ‘normal’. We will certainly make an effort to plan social events and play dates once lockdown is finally over.

Does too much screen time affect brain development?

Some interesting findings from an ongoing NIH study has found that children who use smartphones, tablets and video games for more than 7 hours per day are more likely to have a thinning of the outer layer of the brain where the processing of information occurs. The same study also showed that children who spend more than two hours per day on a screen scored lower on thinking and language tests. Whether this impact is from a direct change to the brain or from a lack of quality learning experiences due to excessive screen time – only time will tell.

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Is screen time inevitable for all children these days?

While it is true that technology has become a part of our everyday lives, maintaining healthy limits and boundaries is important. It is unrealistic to think that a child will get by in life without access to a screen, especially with the need for online learning at times. Whilst we might have a love/hate relationship with these kinds of devices and technologies, learning to live with them in a healthy way is certainly important.

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Summary

There is no escaping the fact that technology plays a central role in 21st century living. From ordering our shopping online to engaging in online work meetings, screens are here to stay and our children will need access to them to thrive in our technology-driven society. Knowing how to maintain our health and wellbeing is important for finding the correct balance and I just love this quote:

There’s no WiFi in the forest, but you will find a better connection – Author Unknown

So, when your child’s online classes are done, or they have maxed out their screen quota for the day, encourage them to get outdoors, be active and connect with the world whilst disconnecting from their beloved devices.

How much screen time does your child have? Do you feel like it’s too much? It’s so hard to escape from, right?? Let me know in the comments below!

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