Two Christmases ago, “Santa” brought my son an Android Tablet, and with it came the great screen time debate. Although I allowed it, I’ve really grown to hate that Tablet. It’s like crack for kids, or what I now refer to as Kid Crack.
I used to allow 30 minutes of Kid Crack per day, and only educational apps. Then I permitted a little extra Tablet on the weekends, and downloaded a few popular kid’s games. Then I became lax and allowed a little more screen time in general, and more games. And do you know what happened? My sweet little boy turned into a fiend waiting for his next fix! He was obsessed with Angry Birds, Minecraft, Minion Rush, Madden, and fighting games like Real Steel and Iron Man. With the increased screen time came resentment and arguing when his time was up: begging for more, crying if he didn’t finish his game, and storming out of the room. I also noticed that with increased screen time my son’s overall demeanor changed. He was more easily distracted and had difficulty focusing, calming down, and listening. Immediately after Tablet time he seemed more spun up, anxious, argumentative, and irritable. Likewise, when I decreased his screen time (or cut it out altogether), his behavior improved tremendously.
What I’ve learned over time is that my son’s erratic behavior is occurring in kids and adolescents everywhere. Studies show that too much screen time actually damages the brain, impairs the capacity to develop healthy social skills, and can cause physical ailments.
Below are some negative effects of screen time:
Impaired Dopamine Function – Dopamine is a brain chemical that triggers reward behavior and addiction. This chemical is released during gaming or watching intense TV programs, causing the urge for more. The result? Brain stimuli that mirror drug cravings.
Brain Atrophy – Several studies found that the brain’s gray matter loses volume in youth who are exposed to too much screen time. Gray matter is responsible for planning, organizing, impulse control, empathy, and the ability to discern emotion – very necessary life skills.
Brain Instability – Excessive screen time diminishes the brain’s white matter. This causes communication loss between brain hemispheres and effects cognitive, emotional, and survival centers in the brain.
Vision Problems – Staring at a screen for extended amounts of time causes eye strain and can lead to headaches and vision impairment.
Physical Development Issues – Postures and hand positions used in gaming or staring at an electronic device can lead to back pain, arthritis, repetitive motion injury, and migraines. Physical inactivity while parked in front of the screen also contributes to childhood obesity.
Aggression – Many games and TV shows depict violence, weapons, fighting, and killing. Studies show that children who spend time watching violent or aggressive media are far more likely to be aggressive at home and at school.
Loss of Social Skills – Kids who spend excessive time interacting with electronic devices lack the ability to interact with others. Underdeveloped social skills can result in limitations in employment, friendships, and simple social etiquette.
Tips for reducing the screen impact in your home:
Set a goal to decrease the total amount of screen time allowed per day – for grown ups too!
Don’t use the TV as a source of background noise.
Schedule “No Electronics” days/nights, and instead enjoy board games, puzzles, and outdoor activities.
No TV/ electronic devices in bedrooms.
No TV/ electronics during meals or homework.
Greatly restrict the amount of intense or violent media allowed in the home.