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7 Reasons Kids Should Avoid Extended Screen Time

Too much screen time for both children and adults has detrimental effects on both physical and mental health.

New Year, New You: Why Your Resolution Should Be Limiting Screen-time
Organic meal delivery service gives you more time with your family & less time in front of the screen.

When my fifth grader first asked me for an iPhone, I laughed. Hard. What on earth could she possibly need a cell phone for? I still bring her to (and wait at) all of her activities. Her interest was obviously not in the calling function, per se, but rather having an internet/gaming/texting device at her fingertips.

As she started rambling off all of her friends that have iPhones and iPads however, all I could think was at what point did elementary school aged kids having tablets and phones become the norm? I still don’t have a tablet and I think I was 18 before I was given my brother’s hand me down cell phone.

And while I’m not apt to entrust hundreds of dollars worth of electronics into the sticky fingers of a child who loses personal items on the regular, it’s actually not the price point that most concerns me with this trend.

What concerns me is the amount of time our kids (and we adults) sit in front a screen.

Many kids already watch plenty of TV and play their fair share of video games –do we really need to give them additional handheld devices with which they can occupy any and all free-time?

Most healthcare professionals agree that the answer for both children and adults is “no”.

In fact, several recent studies have shown that too much screen time for both children and adults has detrimental effects on both physical and mental health, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Gray matter atrophy – This is a big issue and deserves attention. Following a study, Psychology Today reported their findings of notable gray matter atrophy explaining that, “...areas affected included the important frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control […] A finding of particular concern was damage to an area known as the insula, which is involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion. Aside from the obvious link to violent behavior, these skills dictate the depth and quality of personal relationships.” Source
  • Impaired cognitive function – Studies have found decreased memory and attention span to be directly linked to excess screen-time, coining the term “digital dementia”. Source
  • Addiction – Many children and adults have exhibited the telltale signs of addiction when it comes to their phones, video games, and Internet use. Could you imagine if you had your phone taken away? Source
  • Obesity – Adults and children spend the bulk of their waking hours at work and school (respectively). Yet, instead of getting outside and being active after sitting all day, many are coming home to “veg out” in front of one screen or another. This sedentary lifestyle has paved the way for our current obesity epidemic, especially as it relates to our youth.
  • Anxiety/depression – A recent Canadian study links screen-time to elevated levels of anxiety and depression in youth. (Source) Is it any wonder there are commercials for anti-depressants every time you turn on the TV?
  • Neck/spine deformation – Also known as “text-neck”. Yes, it’s a real thing. The overuse of handheld technology has led to significant wear and tear, and sometimes degeneration of the spine. Source
  • Insomnia – Numerous studies have shown that the blue light emitted from technology stimulates alertness, thus affecting your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle and suppressing melatonin levels. Source

Perhaps what is most concerning however, is the fact that much of this technology has not been around long enough for us to understand its long-term effects on health.

So what can you do to minimize these negative effects?

Well, with technology permeating every facet of our modern society (including work and school), trying to limit it may seem like a daunting task, but a few of the following changes can make a big difference.

Place limits on screen-time.
In our family, TV, computers, tablets, video games, movies, etc. all fall under the umbrella of “screen-time”, which we limit to 2 hours MAX per day. Given our busy schedule, screen-time generally doesn’t happen on school days, but on weekends or the rare occasion that a practice gets cancelled, 2 hours is our rule.

This goes for adults too! My husband and I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, mostly games, but it typically doesn’t even come on until after the kids go to bed.

Read actual books.
Kindles and tablets are great and serve a function in some situations, but if given the choice, nothing beats the look, feel, and smell of tangible pages…especially when you can dog-ear them!

Go offline a few hours before bedtime.
Try it. No phone, no tablet, no laptop = no stress from social media or emails. Reduced anxiety coupled with reduced exposure to blue light will help restore your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle, ensuring that you sleep when you’re tired and wake up feeling refreshed.

Keep all electronics out of bedrooms - all of them.
We don’t allow TV, computers, tablets, or phones in any of the bedrooms – I know, we are crazy and mean.

The bedroom needs to be a sanctuary where your body can shut out all of the stressors of daily life so that it can relax and sleep. This is hard to do when your iPhone is buzzing or dinging every few minutes from emails or ill-timed texts. Plus, no blue light exposure before bed, remember?

We live in a great modern age of scientific and technological advancements. But even these marvels should be treated with a level of caution and responsibility, and should never overshadow our real world experience.

Let’s kick off 2016 with the promise to step away from the almighty screen every now and again. Get outside. Enjoy life. Read a book. Go for a run. Imagine what you can achieve with that extra time away from the screen and do it.

*image courtesy Huffington Post.


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