The relationship with children and technology may sometimes be a tumultuous one as parents try to juggle being relational with being realistic. For many, technology serves as a way to entertain children in public places, like restaurants or at appointments. In the home, screen time has a similar role, which allows parents the freedom to do laundry, cook dinner, dishes, and other household chores.
The modern kid, ages 8-18, spends 7.5 hours (on average) on a device or screen every single day, according to the CDC. All that time adds up to 114 days glued to a screen every single year. That’s over 30% of their time, spent under the soft glow of the blue light.
How Does Screen Time Affect You?
The effects of too much screen time are lasting and touch nearly every part of the body from your bones and arteries to the teeny-tiny nerve fibers of your optic nerve. Here are a few sources for specific ways that screen time effects each part of your body:
Too much screen time can mean that your body is taking the hit. Increased screen time has a direct correlation to decreased physical activity, which can in turn, decrease your metabolism and cause an unexpected weight gain or other adverse effects.
To the young developing brain, screens provide a bit of handicap. In this example from Psychology Today, the comparison is drawn between a smartphone-told story and a book read by a baby’s mother.
With the smartphone, the child must process the story, images, words all at one. With a parent reading, the child can focus on the words, then visualize pictures that help to form a complete story line. When the smartphone tells the story, the child doesn’t have to think, they simply follow along, and their cognitive muscles can remain weak because of it.
- Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain
- Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains
- The Complexity of Screen Time & The Brain
- How Screen Time Affects Your Kid’s Brain
Screen time, especially in excess, can mean various levels of eye problems. Eye irritation, dryness, fatigue or blurred vision, or eye strain are all common problems of too much screen time.
Some studies even showed increased rates of the childhood myopia, from rates 50 years ago. Myopia is basically nearsightedness, but many doctors point to too much screen time as the culprit and cause.
- What Too Much Screen Time Does To Your Eyes
- The Effect of Too Much Screen Time on Children’s Vision
- Too Much Screen Time is Raising Rate of Childhood Myopia
- Computer Vision Syndrome
Excessive exposure to screens that let off blue light, which is most, can be even more damaging. But what is blue light? Blue light is technically everywhere. Blue light is the light that travels from the sun through the atmosphere. That is natural blue light. Many man-made electronics emit artificial blue light, which can be damaging to your eyes.
Blue light waves are extremely short, one of the shortest in the entire color spectrum, and they pack a punch, by having one of the highest energy wavelengths. This kind of light can be hard to absorb and may cause excessive eye strain or headaches.
- Blue Light and Your Eyes
- Should You Be Worried About Blue Light?
- The Dark Side of Blue Light
- Is Blue Light Bad for Your Health?
As children grow, there are several childhood developmental milestones that help parents know if their child is on track with similar-aged children. Too much screen time, early on, may delay some of these milestones and cause issues later down the road.
- Toddler Screen Time Linked to Slower Speed Development
- Screen Time and the Effects on Development for Children (Age 0-5)
- The Effects of Young Children’s Screen Time
Wondering where your child stands regarding developmental milestones? Check out these milestones, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, broken down by age.
- 2 Month Milestones
- 4 Month Milestones
- 6 Month Milestones
- 9 Month Milestones
- 1 Year Milestones
- 18 Month Milestones
- 2 Year Milestones
- 3 Year Milestones
- 4 Year Milestones
- 5 Year Milestones
- Printable Milestone Checklist (PDF)
Screen Time & Self Control
One of the biggest problems with too much screen time is the child’s inability to control it. In a recent experiment, one family decided what their children would do, given 48 hours without screen time limits for their four children.
Not to spoil the ending, but the children struggled with placing limits on themselves. Time on the screens ranged from 16 – 46 hours and tantrums ensued when the devices were taken away at the end of the experiment.
This study helps to prove that children are not yet mature enough to decide what amount of screen time is appropriate.
- Impact of Overuse of Screen Technology
- The Drug-Like Effect of Screen Time on the Teenager Brain
- Digital Heroin: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies
How To Get Kids Off of Screens
So we’re reviewed the dangers of too much screen time and how it affects so many facets of life. But what do you do if your kiddos are already hooked? There are a few great techniques and strategies you can try to reduce the harmful effects of too much screen time.
Be an Example
First and foremost, be an example. Are you, yourself, hooked on screens? Children often emulate the behavior of their parents. Try taking some time each night to unplug from technology and spend intentional time bonding with your kids.
Monitor & Control
Some kids may need firmer and more clear guidelines to help manage their screen time. There are a number of parent control apps and software that allow parents to put limits and controls on kids devices.
These parental control software suites can help to manage both time and content, creating a safer and healthier way for kids to learn to effectively use, and balance technology within their lives.
When it’s time to eat, consider putting away all devices. Meal time can be time to ask questions, hear about everyone’s day, and even learn a little bit from your kids. Be involved, be present. Anything that’s happening on a device can wait 30 minutes for dinner to be done.
Provide an Alternative Activity
It can be hard for children to cope with losing their devices or screens if there is no alternate activity. Instead of just taking the screen away, try providing an exciting alternative activity. For example, load up the family and head to the lake, or hit up your local roller rink. Getting out of the house may help to keep your kids’ minds off Minecraft.
Practice Screen Free Week
Try taking one for the whole family to unplug. ‘Screen free week’ can be an effective way to limit screen time since it’s something that affects the whole family. Together you can find new actives to do that don’t require screens. Here’s a list of activities to do that don’t require a screen!
Create a Sense of Awareness
Depending on the age of your child, consider creating a sense of awareness around levels of screen time. This could look different for all families. In some cases, maybe it’s a physical timer that counts down the amount of screen time they have left. In other cases, it may be a physical reminder or tap on the shoulder to let them know how much time they have left.
More Screen-Free Activities
- 22 Interesting Non Tech Activities To Do With Your Kids This Summer
- Screen-Free Parenting
- 10 Fun Ways to Celebrate Screen Free Week
- 101 Screen Free Activities
- 1 Million Screen Free Activities for Kids
- Bye, Bye iPad: 14 Screen-Free Activities for Kids
- 100+ Screen Free Activities for Teens
- 10 No-Cost, Screen-Free Activities to Play with Your Preschooler
- Screen-Free Play & Activities
- 38 Screen Free Activities: that’ll keep your kids busy while you get stuff done
- Screen-Free Week: Activities for Healthy Kids