We all know that too much TV can leave kids irritable and zoned out. But are there other consequences? And how do we know how much is too much? We’ve taken a look at the effects and risks of screen time during childhood, as well as the possible benefits that come with parenting in the information age.
Know the Risks
The effect of time spent in front of a TV or computer screen has been researched extensively in recent years. Scientists believe that too much screen time can have a wide range of effects, particularly during childhood. A UCLA study found that screen time effects children’s ability to recognize emotions and other social skills. Playing computer or video games too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep quality: the blue light from the screen slows the brain’s release of melatonin. Too much TV during childhood has been linked to obesity throughout life. Internet and gaming addiction can even cause brain damage and gray matter atrophy, affecting parts of the brain that deal with impulse control and empathy.
How Much is Too Much?
The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend a limit of two hours of screen time a day for older children and none at all for children ages two and under. That changed last year. Their new, more lenient recommendations reflect the difficulties of parenting in a digital age. Rather than setting a hard limit on recommended screen time, they now advise maintaining “tech-free zones,” and setting limits on technology based on whether it is hindering involvement in other activities. They recommend making sure that there is time set aside for imaginative, unstructured play; and keeping charging devices outside of the child’s room at bedtime. To ensure that your child’s sleep is not effected, make sure that they have a technology-free time to unwind before bed.
While there can be benefits using some technology in parenting, it’s important to set limits and do research. Keep in mind that although many apps are labeled as “educational,” it is difficult to qualify how much they really assist in learning. Doing a little investigation into these apps can make a difference in the quality of time that your child is spending in the virtual world. The AAP also advises that social media can “support identity formation” for teens.
Technology and the virtual world have become essential parts of our culture. But it’s important to remember the effects that they can have on child development. We hope that this is helpful for deciding on screen time guidelines that work for your family!