Kids and screen time – the good and the bad

Article written by Sergiu Bumbacea and Filip Popescu M.Sc.

 

In this blog post, we are tackling the topic of screen time and mental health of the children when being digitally present.

 

Table of contents:

1. Risks of too much screen time.
2. How does social media affect children’s mental health?
3. What does too much screen time do to your brain?
4. Positive effects of technology.
5. Alternatives to screen time.
6. Practical tips on how to manage screen time.

We know that the use of technology is continuously expanding and it influences every area of our lives, from our ability to communicate with loved ones to accessing all the information at our fingertips. Also, it’s not a secret that most of the people are addicted to their “screen time”.

Screen time is the amount of time someone spends looking at an electronic device with a screen, and it can be harmful to the mental health of every person if it’s not controlled, especially to the young ones.

Everyone knows that mental health is very important and it should be taken into consideration more in these times.

“In terms of the relationship between screen use and both physical and mental health outcomes, there have been several studies that suggest higher levels of screen use in children and adolescents is associated with reduced physical activity, increased risk of depression, and lower well-being.“ (Source)

First of all, let’s talk about risks of too much screen time.

For kids, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are often the result of too much screen time. “In addition to the physical and psychological effects, too much social media time can lead to problems with social skills and their application, as well as a decrease in self-esteem – in both children and adults. Furthermore, kids can be bullied online while sitting right next to their parents and they can’t get away from it.” (Source) Just an hour a day staring at a screen can be enough to make children more likely to become anxious or depressed. This may be making them less curious, more sluggish, less emotionally stable, and with lower self-control. A study suggests that high screen time is significant positively correlated with anxiety, depression, and poor sleep quality. Luckily, researchers suggest that in addition to reducing screen time, we can also manage children’s mental issues by including regular physical activities in their schedules. Because children don’t start showing symptoms until they are around 8 to 10 years old, mental illness in kids can go undetected. As parents, it is important for you learn the signs and symptoms associated with mental health issues so you can apply preventative actions or get your children the treatment or therapy they need. Below are some of the most common warning signs in teens and adolescents: – Extreme mood swings – Drug or alcohol use – Severe changes in sleeping habits, personality traits, and behaviour – Difficult time concentrating – Extreme sense of worry or fear during daily activities – Attempting to harm one’s self or thinking about it – Sudden weight loss or weight gain – Feeling withdrawal or sad – Signs of addictive behaviour in regards to the internet
Photo credit: freepik.com

How does social media affect children’s mental health?

On one hand, the use of social media benefits children’s growth. Social media sites allow teens to accomplish online many of the tasks that are important to them offline: staying connected with friends and family, making new friends, sharing pictures, and exchanging ideas. Social media usage also provides enhanced learning opportunities, allowing middle and high school students to connect with one another on homework and group projects.

Some studies have indicated that presence on social media may be tied to negative mental health outcomes, including suicidal thoughts, loneliness, and decreased empathy. Other studies have not found evidence of harm, or have indicated that social media use may be beneficial for some individuals. (Source)

For more discussions on the risks associated with social media use, we direct you to our former blog posts on the topics of children’s smartphone usage and cyberbullying during the current pandemic.

 

What Does Too Much Screen Time Do To Your Brain?

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study by the National Institutes of Health has been following more than 11,000 kids, ages 9 and 10 years old, at 21 different areas throughout the United States. According to an article on Healthline, the initial results of the research show that:

– MRI scans found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day.

– Children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

Unfortunately, many more years of patience are needed to learn whether these effects are the result of too much screen time or the differences stem from something else.

“And, the Pew Research study indicates that more than half of teens (51%) say their parents are “often or sometimes” distracted by their own phones while in conversation with their child, leading to feelings of unimportance in the child.” (Source)

Photo credit: freepik.com

Positive Effects of Technology

With ongoing technological development, there are numerous positive outcomes related to mental health which we want to point out.
The recent introduction of telehealth in many areas has made mental healthcare more accessible to people around the world, especially for those in rural areas who lack resources.

Moreover, you can download supportive apps for depression, anxiety, PTSD, mindfulness, habit tracking, and more, which can bring that much needed boost in your mental health habits.

Connecting with others has also been made easier and more accessible. We can keep in touch with family on the other side of the country or on different continents; have weekly video calls with friends overseas; attend reunions, gatherings, and community events through a number of virtual outlets. Maintaining relationships with friends, family and communities is an important support system for mental health. As mentioned by Dr Westers, a Paediatric Psychologist from UT Southwestern Paediatric Group:

“People are wired for connection. Without connection, we can feel lonely, which can eventually make us feel depressed, and then we run the risk of premature death.”

It is thanks to technology and advancements in screens that we now have constant access to the people and communities we value and rely on. (Source)

For a wide selection of recommendation on how you can spend time with your children using technology, consult our growing selection of educational activities on our KTW Weekly Programs.

 

Alternatives to screen time

“To put things into perspective, about 50% of lifetime mental illness cases started at the age of 14 and 75% began by the age of 24.“ (Source) Considering this, it is important to take precautionary steps to mitigate potential risk factors for your children, including their access to technology. They can include adding parental controls to limit the amount of time your children can have on their mobile device or while watching television.

As their parents, it is your duty to find other constructive activities for your children to become involved in. It can mean enrolling them in summer camps, putting them in art classes, or even just organizing extra parent-child bonding activities throughout the week. Being involved with them in such activities can have positive effects on children’s behaviour and quality of life. Various selections of how to spend time also teaches them to not rely solely on screens for entertainment. With all the benefits of technology, we must prioritise other activities as well which can stimulate more areas of our and your children’s brains.

Moreover, the Cleveland Clinic has a selection of healthy alternatives to screen time, which we support.

If there are many chores remaining around the house, appeal to your kids’ pride by “allowing” them to sweep, do dishes, or even fold laundry. Extend this opportunity by teaching them how to cook: make cookies together! Challenge their creativity by convincing them to build forts (out of pillows, chairs, boxes), or anything else for that matter (think Legos), and even to get crafty with paint, collages, masks… If indoors creativity isn’t suitable, then get them outside. A trail in the woods or time in a park are valuable fresh air sources. Show-and-tell is also a fun alternative; bring out your old photo albums and share your best stories! And on the same note, this is a great opportunity for you to express your inner collector: old stamps? Original Pokémon cards? Foreign currency (which may now be out of circulation)? Show your kids what you were interested in at their age. Moreover, if this gets boring, you can bring out the trusty puzzles and board games for tons of family fun!

Photo credit: freepik.com

Practical tips on how to manage screen time

For parents who are wondering how to limit their child’s screen time, the American Academy of Pediatrics set out updated media guidelines based on the latest research. They suggest:

– Don’t use screen time as a way to calm your child down or as a babysitter.

– For children under 18 months old, no screen time.

– For children 18 to 24 months old, parents should choose only high-quality media and watch it with their child.

– For children 2 to 5 years old, less than one hour per day of high-quality programming is recommended, with parents watching along.

– No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.

– Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child play times screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.

There is a wealth of digital traffic online, exponentially increasing. It is becoming less and less obvious if screen time is harming or benefiting our mental health. It all depends on our personal usage of these tools.

 

 

From connecting with friends and family, to harming your self- esteem through social media comparisons, screen time needs to have a balance. It’s all about building a proper digital discipline.

How are you using your screen time?

Please share your experiences with us below, or write us at info@kidstechworld.com .

 

 


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Resources

https://www.all4kids.org/news/blog/effects-of-technology-on-mental-health/

https://childrenstreatmentcenter.com/technology-screen-time-and-childrens-mental-health/

https://www.genpsych.com/post/what-are-effects-of-technology-on-children-s-mental-health

https://discoverymood.com/blog/how-does-screen-time-affect-mental-health/

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/12-healthier-alternatives-to-screen-time-when-kids-are-stuck-at-home-with-no-school/

When and How Should Kids Use Smartphones? – KidsTechWorld

Cyberbullying during the pandemic. – KidsTechWorld

Weekly Programs – KidsTechWorld

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