His eyes were blurred and dazed. It was the third time in a half hour I had asked him to shut off his Ipad to no avail. Frustrated I grabbed it out of my son’s hands. As he looked up at me, coming back to reality, I knew. Screentime had become more than just a pastime for him- it had turned into an addiction. My heart broke as I watched his tears fall. But on that day I knew it was time to kibosh on unmanaged screen time. I found was I wasn’t alone in the parenting world with concerns and overexposure to screens. The issues that can arise from unmanaged technology usage can have some considerable consequences.
The Facts on Unmanaged Screen Time:
- Sleep deprivation– There have been studies on blue screens and how it affects sleep patterns. All electronics including smartphones, tablets, and TVs emit blue light. The body interprets this as daylight which in turn makes your body interpret it needs to stay awake. Which can make little ones have one heck of a time going to sleep at night.
- Obesity– Sitting for extended lengths of time is detrimental to anyone. Instead of playing and using their energy constructively, children are instead spending time sitting and being still when using screens. This sedentary lifestyle combined with snacking creates unhealthy lifelong habits at a young age. These habits can lead to health problems such as obesity as well as childhood diabetes.
- Vision issues– Staring at screens for too long can lead to eye strain. Even as an adult I have been victim to this on one of my writing sprees. The effects on children’s eyes and extended screen time concern because of the long term effects on children are not known at this point. However, adults with excessive blue light exposure have been linked to conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Even a recent survey by The Vision Council found that 55.6% of parents report that their children experience symptoms of digital eye strain.
- Joint issues– Strain on the neck, elbows, and fingers are becoming more commonplace with children as well as adults.
- New York back surgeon Kenneth Hansraj has found that tilting your head down at a 45-degree angle puts approximately 49 pounds of force on your neck. Leaning your head at a 60-degree angle puts 60 pounds of force on your neck. That’s a considerable amount of pressure for growing bodies.
- Bending your elbows for long periods can also cause issues. Cubital tunnel syndrome which includes tingling and numbness in your ring and pinky fingers is happening to the younger generation as well. “Although symptoms may not be immediate, using these positions can aggravate the problem and progressively irritate the nerve,” says Dr. David Ernst at Orthopedic Associates of Port Huron.
- A study conducted in 2013 found that 84 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds were already experiencing lower back pain. Umm… excuse me?
18-24 year olds? This age group should not be experiencing aches and pains like these, but because of extended screen time and poor posture, it is becoming more commonplace.
- Aggression– The National Center for Health Research states, “Studies have shown that playing violent video games can increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in both the short-term and long-term. Violent video games can also desensitize people to seeing aggressive behavior and decrease prosocial behaviors such as helping another person and feeling empathy (the ability to understand others). The longer that individuals are exposed to violent video games, the more likely they are to have aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.” Empathy is a paramount emotion for adults as well as children. Desensitizing them to this emotion is creating a toxic internal environment not only at home but at school as well.
No one wants any of these issues for their children. Technology, however, isn’t going away anytime soon. So how do we as parents find the balance between healthy and destructive use of our modern conveniences?
How to Create a Healthier Relationship with your Children and Technology
Limiting time on screens is not only important but a necessity. Children cannot handle the dopamine levels that screens and games produce on an extended level. The American Heart Association states that children are spending way too much time on screens and “Recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.” Having days off from screens like school days, blackout times such as 6 pm to 9 am also helps regulate expectations so that your child will be aware of their tech time parameters.
Treating technology as an end goal can keep not only your child on task it also helps in the chore department and homework. My children know that they can’t touch technology until homework and chores are done. Responsibility is a fabulous life skill, and if it helps children realize this roll with it!
Fitness for Minutes
One of the biggest problems with spending so much time on technology is that for most applications you must remain still to play the game, watch the show or read. As stated before, this can lead to joint issues in the neck and fingers as well as weight problems from lack of exercise. A friend of mine started this with her children and I loved it. Her kids have to do pushups, pull ups, jumping jacks, ride their bikes or run on their treadmill for minutes on their ipads. 1 minute of exercise for one minute of screen time. It keeps the activity level up and the screen time down. Win for all!
Quality Screen Time
With my little technology guru son, it isn’t always easy to say no to something he loves. His interest is far beyond just the gaming world. We found fabulous and creative ways for him to explore computers that are both educational and fun. Educational and interest based apps and programs can keep children help create a positive relationship with the tech world.
For little ones, ABC Mouse was an excellent tool for early reading math and science. The program is easy to use and the kids loved it. The games and activities made learning fun.
For S.T.E.M and creative kids, there are countless apps that they can explore their creativity with. A few of my favorites are here.
Its all about finding the right balance for your child and screen time. Limiting time, setting boundaries and consistently monitoring your child while using technology is our responsibility. It may not always be easy. But staying consistent and knowing the risks will benefit both you and your child.
 Anderson CA, Shibuya A, Ihori N, Swing EL, Bushman BJ, Sakamoto A, Rothstein HR, Muniba. Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin. 2010.