Are screens really that bad for kids??
October 15, 2020

Are screens really that bad for kids??

Screen time has been a cause for controversy with the advancement of various technologies over the past years and decades. In 2019, The Common Sense Census reported that children ages 8 to 12-years have their eyes on screens for nearly 5 hours each day, and this is for entertainment purposes only! These researchers also found that teenagers are on screens for nearly 7.5 hours per day! Let’s go ahead and couple this with the fact that our kids are on screens more than ever before because so many are involved in distance learning. A few questions are at play here: “Is screen time really that bad?,” “How much is too much?,” and “What should I do about it?”

Let me start by saying you are a good parent. Clearly, you care about your child/children or you would not be reading this post right now. No matter how much screen time your child gets at this moment in time, it will likely not cause severe, detrimental consequences that will last them the rest of their lives. Take a breath.

Screen time has been studied pretty extensively in the past 5 to 10 years, and some of the conclusions that have been made include the following:

(1) A child’s television viewing behavior is affected by that of the parent. If you watch television for hours upon hours, so will your kids!

It seems like this would be common sense, but it isn’t always. I hate to say it, but I think that it would be fair to say that smartphone use behavior is in the same category. Are you reaching for your smartphone with each and every unfilled, stressful, or boring moment of the day? Well, then so will your child. Please keep in mind that you are your child’s biggest role model. They notice everything. If you have a bad habit that you would prefer your child not have, work on kicking that bad habit! Try engaging with a counselor or therapist. There are focused, strategic ways to make changes in your behaviors.

(2) Screen time takes the place of other, possibly more beneficial, activities such as face-to-face interactions, outdoor play, sleeping, etc.

This is what helped me to truly understand the statement above: Think back to when you were in elementary school (you know, back before smart phones and what not). What did you do after school? Did you ride your bike? Read? Do puzzles? Play a sport? Now, think about what kids are doing in the current climate. Are they going straight to the television or to their smartphone? Do kids even read for fun anymore?

Encourage your child to be a part of after school activities. Even elementary aged children can get involved, whether that is at school or in the community. I know that my local library has lego club and storytime which can draw crowds of all ages. I did a quick google search in my area and found an entire website with tons of ideas: https://www.atlantaparent.com/after-school-activity-programs-guide/

If you need help with the google search, just ask your pre-teen to help you.

(3) More screen time = less sleep

Pretty self-explanatory. When kids are on screens all day, they have trouble winding down and going to bed. Lack of sleep has all sorts of detrimental consequences for kids:

  • Increased likelihood of nightmares, night terrors, and sleepwalking
  • Increased stress levels
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty with focus and attention

Let’s dig a little deeper into this. If a child’s sleep stays out of whack, he/she has a much stronger likelihood of having anxiety, depression, and engaging in self-harm behaviors (i.e., cutting) (Brooks, 2019). These are significant mental health issues that we have the opportunity to reduce the likelihood of with a little effort!

(4) Increased screen time (specifically television watching) results in poorer academic performance (Adelantado-Renau et al., 2019)

This is an interesting concept to study and understand because a significant relationship was only found between television viewing and poorer academic performance. Video games actually have the potential to correlate with higher academic performance, possibly because your child engaged in an interactive relationship with the game and using language and other skills along the way. More research needs to be done; however, limiting television watching and spending more time outdoors and involved in other positive social and educational activities is still a good idea.

Here are some easy ways to keep your child’s screen time in check:

  1. Take the television out of the bedroom! If the television is out of the bedroom, there are naturally fewer opportunities to watch, especially unsupervised. Keep in mind that the bed (for children) should be for sleep only (For parents, there is one more activity that is acceptable for the bedroom-I think you know). If your child only associates the bed with sleep, sleep will improve!
  2. Have clear limits regarding your child’s screen use for entertainment purposes. For example, on school nights allow one 30-minute episode of television and 30-minutes of watching (parent monitored) YouTube. On the weekends, allow one full hour of television watching and one full hour of using the computer. There are plenty of apps out there to help limit screen time for your kids at little to no cost to you.
  3. No television during mealtime!!! My sister-in-law taught me a great way to get some conversation going for my family of littles. Every night during dinner, we each talk about our “happy” and, sometimes, our “sad” for the day. You would be surprised about the small events during the day that turned out to be a really big deal for your child.
  4. Watch television with your child to determine if he/she truly knows what is going on. Younger children (about ages 0-5) can not differentiate between television fiction and reality. This is part of the reason it is so important to have them watch age appropriate shows. Ensure that your child is watching shows and movies that support your own family values and provide positive lessons. Think Sid The Science Kid, Daniel the Tiger, and Bill Nye the Science Guy for younger kids. For older children, think Brain Child and How the Universe Works.
  5. Create “technology-free” areas in your home. In our home, we have an area that we use as an office/play room. There is no television and no cell phone use in that room. A computer is to be used only at the small desk in a corner of the room. Imagination really thrives in children when they have minimal distractions and they have our full focus.

As of the time I am writing this, we are mid worldwide pandemic. Life is hard. Work is hard. Kids are likely in virtual school. Nothing is “normal.” Give yourself a break on this. You are human and you are quite likely a good parent, doing your best for your child. That being said, a few changes could make a big difference when it comes to screen time! Try one or two weeks and go from there.

References : The Common Sense Census:  Media use by tweens and teens. 2019. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/research/2019-census-8-to-18-full-report-updated.pdf.

Media Use and Screen Time – Its Impact on Children, Adolescents, and Families. 2020. Retrieved from https://acpeds.org/position-statements/media-use-and-screen-time-its-impact-on-children-adolescents-and-families

Brooks DM, Brooks LJ. Interactions between sleep, sleep difficulties, and quality of life. J Clin Sleep Med. 2019;15(4):541–542.

Adelantado-Renau M, Moliner-Urdiales D, Cavero-Redondo I, Beltran-Valls MR, Martínez-Vizcaíno V, Álvarez-Bueno C. Association Between Screen Media Use and Academic Performance Among Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis . JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(11):1058–1067. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3176

About the author

Lauren Powell, PsyD

Dr. Powell is a licensed clinical psychologist who is dedicated to helping individuals in the state of Georgia improve their quality of life by navigateing life’s stressors and emotional struggles with compassion, dedication, and non-judgement.

On her blog, she shares insights and resources to provide healing support. Check back often for new content, or request an appointment here.

Lauren Powell, Psy.D

(678) 439-9575

doctorlaurenpsyd@gmail.com