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How Too Much Screen Time Affects Your Kids (And How To Set Limits)

As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, we’re emerging with new addictions to our devices. For many families, lock downs meant turning to virtual entertainment and increased online communications with friends and loved ones.

The result is that we’re more comfortable with the virtual world than ever before – and many children are finding it hard to break their screen time “habit” now. How can parents restrict their kid’s online time and do they really need to?

How Long Much Screen Time Do Kids Get?

A couple of years before the pandemic, the Pew Research Center did a study on the amount of screen time among children. Back then (2018), 54 percent of the teens aged 13 – 17 voiced concerns about the amount of time they were spending on their phones and online.

The good news was that the study had noted that, “Some 52% of U.S. teens report taking steps to cut back on their mobile phone use, and similar shares have tried to limit their use of social media (57%) or video games (58%).” But then Covid-19 came into our lives and our device use skyrocketed – which brings up the question of whether screen time can cause harm, either mentally or physically.

Can Too Much Screen Time Change Children’s Brains?

We aren’t sure yet whether spending a good part of our waking hours online is bad for us or not. This is because people have only had access to affordable computers and cell phones for about three decades. While this may seem like a long time, it really isn’t when it comes to watching for behavioral or physical effects.

This means that researchers really don’t know what long-term screen time does to the brains of kids or adults. However, because children’s brains are still in the process of developing and growing, experts agree that this technology probably does have some sort of effect on their brains – and it’s likely not a positive one.

The National Institutes of Health agrees. To examine this theory, they are conducting the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Their ongoing research has been following more than 11,000 kids, ages 9 and 10 years old, at 21 different areas throughout the United States.

An article on Healthline, reported the initial results of the research. It showed that:

  • Children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests.
  • MRI scans found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day.

It’s frightening to think that we will have to wait awhile longer to find out whether these changes are from too much screen time or from something else. If these effects are caused by using our devices, what further damage will be done by then?

Are There Emotional Effects Of Too Much Screen Time?

What about an emotional component of too much screen time? Sadly, it seems that our devices are affecting kid’s mental health, as well.

A 2018 population-based study by Twenge and Campbell showed that “…increasing screen time was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being.” And this happens after just one hour of screen time per day! According to the study, “High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.”

Okay, but it can’t be so bad if kids are interacting with each other and developing social relationships, right?

Again, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. According to a Psychology Today article by Victoria L. Dunckley M.D., “…many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.”  

In addition to the physical and psychological effects, too much social media time can lead to problems with social skills and their application, as well as a decrease in self-esteem – in both children and adults. Furthermore, kids can be bullied online and unable to evade it – even though their parents may be sitting right next to them.

How To Limit Screen Time

If you’re having a tough time limiting your child’s screen time, try these tips and guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • For children under 18 months old, no screen time.
  • For children 18 to 24 months old, parents should choose only high-quality media and watch it with their child.
  • For children 2 to 5 years old, less than one hour per day of high-quality programming is recommended, with parents watching along.
  • Don’t use screen time as a way to calm your child down or as a babysitter.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child play times screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.

We Can Help Break The Screen Time Cycle

If you are concerned about your teen or ‘tween’s screen time amount, we can help you take steps to “disconnect.” For more information, contact the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.

Dr. Andrew Rosen PHD, ABPP, FAACP is a Board-Certified Psychologist and the Founder and Director of The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, as well as, the Founder of The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services.


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