by Suzee Skwiot
How many times have you thought: "I'll just plop the kid down on the couch, let him watch TV, and I'll finally have a moment to breathe"? It's easy, after all. They're entertained and you get to enjoy some peaceful moments. Sorry, Mom, but you might have to find a new way to get some me time.
Even though we're constantly surrounded by TVs, computers, the Internet, video games, and our phones and tablets, their negative effects far outweigh the good.
From developmental delays to health and mental illnesses, too much time spent in front of screens has been found to cause lifelong harm to children. Especially when they consume far more than the recommended two hours daily.
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates children consume more than seven hours of television per day. That's almost a third of their day! So in honor of Screen Free Week, turn off those monitors (TV, computers, and otherwise) and enjoy some good old-fashioned fun.
Not sure it's worth it? Far away from the glowing display, you'll save your children from its many harms, because children who consume more than the recommended amount of screen time are more likely to:
- Be obese.
We've heard this one before, but children who consume more than two hours of screen time per day are more likely to be obese, even in adulthood, according to a 2013 study published in Pediatrics. These children have decreased physical activity, are more likely to be influenced by food advertising during television watching, are likely to snack while watching, and have a decreased metabolism.
- Have unrealistic expectations of body image.
While studies do show that children exposed to high quantities of screen time are more likely to be overweight, they're also likely to develop eating disorders. Especially prevalent in girls, the same study found that the portrayals of women characters in television gives young women unrealistic expectations of body types and can lead to bad eating habits.
- Be more at risk for cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.
When researchers studied a group of 10th graders, they found that those who consumed more than two hours of screen time on weeknights were twice as likely to have abnormally high levels of insulin! Between their diets, the footage they see on TV, and constantly sitting, they're not likely processing their nutrients.
- Have higher blood pressure.
Children, and especially teens, who report high amounts of video game playing and television viewing are shown to have increased blood pressure, both because of the time they spend sitting in front of screens, and the highly engaging content they consume. Those high-risk games raise their blood pressure and cause more than just in-game pressures.
- Lead sedentary lifestyles.
It makes sense. Those who watch television, play video games, go on the Internet, or play on their phones tend to be sitting down. The more you're consumed with screen time and supplied entertainment, the less likely you are to go outside, interact with others, and, generally, stand.
- Form an addiction.
Internet Use Disorder is now a thing. In May 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, added the disorder into their official list. Individuals, especially children, who suffer from it are preoccupied with the Internet, have actual withdrawals when it's taken away, are less interested in other interactions, and use the Internet to improve their own moods.
- Have poor family functioning.
Children who have higher levels of media use tend to have worse emotional and peer problems, especially in a family setting. Since family time is not required, or is spent in front of the television, they do not have healthy relationships with family members. Because of this, they...
- Have weak attachment to parents and peers.
A 2010 study published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that pre-teens that consumed high volumes of screen time were less likely to have strong emotional attachments to their parents and their peers. This could be because they ...
- Have less meals with the family.
With more time spend watching TV, playing video games, or chatting on a phone, kids are not as likely to have a regular sit-down meal with the entire family.
- Have poor executive functioning.
From playing to managing details, all of these are impaired after long stretches of television time. "It's probably not a good idea to have your child do homework or send them on a play date after a lot of screen time," Angeline Lillard, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, tells The Stir.
- Get less sleep.
A 2014 study followed 1864 children and found that because of their screen time usage, they got less sleep. According to Elizabeth Cespedes, the study's lead, this is because children literally replaced sleep time with TV time and could not concentrate once they were put to bed. Cespedes found that for every hour of television that a child consumed, they received seven minutes less of sleep. That might not seem like much, but add that up, and it means hours lost over the course of a week.
- Have recurring nightmares.
But when they do sleep, children are much more likely to experience nightmares if they go to bed right after watching TV (or if they watch TV in bed). This is mainly because their brains are working in over-drive, and having just viewed a program (or played a video game) with graphic content, they're more likely to replay it once they're asleep.
- Be prone to over-excitement.
Similarly, according to Lillard, children are also hyperactive directly after television watching. "This is why it's a bad idea to have a television in the bedroom," Lillard says. "After viewing fast-paced television, their brains are on overdrive. Chances are, it's not a good idea to put them down for a nap immediately after viewing an episode."
- Have shorter attention spans.
Without stimulating their minds, children who play video games or consume more than the allotted time of television are more likely to have much shorter attention spans than children who are able to use their imagination. Lillard, who conducted a study on the immediate impacts of screen time on children, found that just nine minutes of a fast-paced and fantastical television show can impair a child's attention span. This, in turn, can make them less focused in school and much more distracted.
- Not do their homework.
Oftentimes, children are distracted by television programming, which takes time away from homework and studies. Ultimately, when they're faced with schoolwork, they do not devote the appropriate amount of time.
- Perform poorly on an exam.
In addition to not doing their homework, studies have found that children who get more than the recommended amount of screen time, and who do not get proper sleep as a result, perform poorer on testing. This is especially true in standardized exams that require long stretches of focus and attention.
- More stressed.
Because their time is mostly consumed with television, Internet, and video games, they often lose time that is meant for other activities. Because of this, studies have found that children are more likely to be stressed in school (because they're unprepared) or around other people (because they would rather be entertained otherwise). The games themselves also cause children more stress because they become entirely focused on achieving the short-term goals within the programs.
- Be depressed.
Kids who have a later bedtime because of television watching are more likely to suffer from depression. In association to loss of sleep time, and weaker attachment to parents and family, children may be more detached and show signs of depression that can extend into adulthood as well. Similarly, "Facebook depression," as reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, occurs when children spend too much time on social media and either because of their interactions or what they view from other users begin to exhibit signs of depression.
- Get injured.
Children up to the age of 4 are more likely to suffer from unintentional injuries after prolonged bouts of screen time, especially if they are losing sleep as a result of their television watching. Also, "gamer's thumb" is a real injury that occurs when kids who play video games (or text vigorously) injure their thumb muscles.
- Develop 'text neck.'
'Text neck' or 'iPosture' is awful. Essentially, it's a habit of horrible posture that can create a bad spine. Children who spend long amounts of time watching TV or sitting in front of their computer do not properly sit and care for their back. Because of this, studies have found that they're much more likely to have spinal problems are early as young adulthood!
- Be more violent.
By the time children turn 18, they will have viewed about 200,000 acts of violence on TV. And shockingly, most of them are from programming meant for children. A recent study found that 100 percent (that's right, 100 percent) of animated feature films feature some sort of violence. When children are exposed to such scenes, they're more likely to accept these actions are correct or right and will use them as the supposed right means to get what they want. Children under the age of 5 have a hard time separating reality from fantasy and often try to mimic what they see on screen. Even those sly little punches at cartoon characters can show them that using violence can help you get what you want.
- Be more impulsive.
Take Halo, for example. Kids who play the popular video game have to make decisions on the fly: which weapon to use, where to go, who to attack. This translates into real life as well. They are less likely to think decisions through and are far more prone to making impulsive and split-second decisions to satisfy a very short-term goal. Like, how to destroy those aliens, for example.
- Be more sexual.
Children who viewed highly sexual content (whether it be an R-rated movie on TV, or pornography on the computer) are more sexual in their own lives, and tend to be more sexual earlier in adulthood.
- Have an unplanned pregnancy.
Because they are more highly sexualized, studies have also shown that children that view high amounts of television are at greater risk for an unplanned pregnancy and STDs.
- Have poorer vocabularies.
Children who rely on television and computers for their main form of entertainment also have lower vocabularies and use less expressive language. Because they don't immediately process the words and emotions that are present on-screen, they cannot apply them to their daily activities.
How do you limit screen time in your home?