Tech-savvy American kids, increasingly dependent on their electronic devices and screens, are giving up a lot for their technology. They may need better parental and school supervision to change their ways.
Let’s face it, parenting has always presented difficult challenges. But in addition to all the traditional challenges of parenting, moms and dads must now figure out how to keep their children from over-using technology. How much “screen time” is okay for children and teenagers? What kind of harm is inflicted by too much screen time? Should there be limits? And, what should those limits be?
Screen time includes watching television, working on a computer, playing video games, and using a smartphone or tablet. Of course, the use of these technologies has skyrocketed, and so has the time most kids spend each day in front of a screen. Many kids (and grownups too) spend nearly half their waking hours in front of a screen.
What kind of harm does this do to children’s health? Chief among the physical health problems associated with a screen-dependent, sedentary lifestyle is obesity and related issues stemming from a lack of exercise. Kids sit more, snack more…and exercise less. Other adverse effects include problems with fingers, wrists, neck and back, and eyes too.
Lack of sleep is an additional problem. Sending texts after going to bed is a habit for many teens. Blue light from screens acts like caffeine, keeping children from going to sleep. Bright light leads to decreased melatonin levels, leaving teens sleep-deprived — and the problem has been getting worse.
In-School Screen Time
School teachers and administrators are worried about the dramatic increase in screen time. Students who spend too much time looking at screens are less able to focus and concentrate in class. Too much screen time adversely affects school performance — and excessive screen time is associated with a decline in overall grade point average.
A related question, however, is how much damage the schools themselves are doing as they put children on tablets for much of their in-school work. As a teacher and communications professional, I worry about the social isolation of teenagers as they seem more interested in the images on their screens than the people they are with. Good interpersonal communications — other than through screen time — are essential for good relationships, both at home and at work. Less face-to-face communication means a decrease in the ability to recognize non-verbal social cues as well as less ability to understand the feelings of others.
Quality screen time can bring us a lot that is good. And in recent years, we’ve largely closed the “digital divide” — bringing the benefits of the new technologies to ever more American children and young adults. But there is plenty that’s worrisome, and just plain bad, about too much screen time. We need to deal with that reality.
Next Time: Help for parents who want to limit screen time.