Kids and Screen Time — The Dangers are Real

“Don’t sit so close to the TV … you’ll ruin your eyes.”

That was the mantra a lot of us heard growing up, as kids were plunked down in front of the TV so our parents could get some peace.

Today that warning seems pretty tame, especially in light of recent research on kids and smartphones.

“Children as young as two are developing mental health problems because of smartphones and tablets, scientists warn,” writes Sam Blanchard in DailyMail.

As little as an hour a day of screen time can be enough to make them more anxious and prone to depression, less able to finish tasks, less able to exhibit self-control over their emotions and their behavior.

He’s referring to research out of San Diego State University and the University of Georgia that shows time spent on smartphones can be a precursor to all of these mental health challenges.

“Adolescents spending more than seven hours a day on screens are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression as those who spent an hour,” Blanchard notes. “Links between screen time and wellbeing are stronger among adolescents than young children, the study found.

Even moderate use of four hours is also associated with lower psychological well-being than one hour a day,” Blanchard continues.

“Pre-schoolers, or under-fives, who are high users are twice as likely to often lose their temper – and are 46 percent more prone to not be able to calm down when excited. Among 14 to 17-year-olds, more than four in ten (42.2 percent) of those in the study who spent more than seven hours a day on screens did not finish tasks. About one in eleven (9 percent) of 11 to 13-year-olds who spent an hour with screens daily were not curious or interested in learning new things,” Blanchard writes.

What makes digital media consumption so dangerous to kids and their brains? Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Child’s Hospital, believes that digital media provides “impoverished” stimulation to developing brains, rather than allowing the chance to let their minds wander.

It’s in this wandering, this space that some might call boredom, that children’s imaginations and creativity are most actively engaged. Dr. Rich points to research by his colleagues at Harvard Medical School that shows how damaging screen time can be to healthy brain development. The rise in screen time limits creative thought; it also has a negative impact on healthy sleep, and many researchers are seeing trends connecting screen time to the rise in obesity, sleeplessness, and a loss of important social skills.

Parenting is hard; I get it. I have kids. But dealing with a kid with mental health issues is a million times harder. Let’s give our kids back their childhoods. Limit their screen time, before their screen time limits our kids.