The effects of screen time on your children

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“Screen time” is a rising health concern for modern children and teens, both when it comes to physical fitness, but much more dominantly mental health. Statistics show that depression and suicidal tendencies in children and teens have as much as doubled generation-to-generation. This increase has been clearly linked to more time than ever spent staring at a screen. We interviewed Ingrid Stokes, a qualified teacher with a decade of experience dealing with these issues, to find out more about the effects of screen time on your children, and how to deal with it.

What is screen time?

Screen time is any exposure, direct or indirect, that a person has to an electronic screen. This could be on a cell-phone, television screen, tablet or computer screen.

What are the biggest risks children face?

  • TV – This is an easy baby sitter and a quick escape from reality for children. It discourages active play resulting in poor muscle development. This later results in difficulty sitting still in class and lowers the ability to concentrate. Poor muscle and body development makes the classroom frustrating for children. Children also become used to over-stimulation (sounds from the TV, quick moving screens increase visual stimulation). This can make them impatient in class. No teacher can complete with a screen and learning takes time and effort. For a generation used to enormous amounts of stimulation that is effort free, this is frustrating and not worth the time and effort. Emotionally TV causes its own problems. Children under the age of 5 who watch more than 2 hours of TV a day are not allowed enough human interaction and their social and emotional development suffers. Children learn how to behave, or how not to, from the reactions they get from friends and adults. As the television doesn’t react, no learning takes place. Their feelings are also not validated as the TV does not respond to their laughter or tears. This translates into ‘no one cares so why react’.
  • Internet – The internet just opens a whole world of information that is not age appropriate. All the negative points of television apply, as well as the unfortunate access to inappropriate material which is very hard to control despite blockers and parental controls.
  • Social media – Studies have shown that opening a social media browser and seeing likes and loves on your posts, causes your brain to release endorphins. This teaches children that their self worth is determined by a thousand strangers on social media, instead of by the people in their close circle who love them for who they are. They become addicted to the misrepresentation of reality on social media as well as the applause they get from creating their own fake truth. As a result, their self-confidence and self-esteem take a huge knock. Social media also opens the door for cyber-bulling which has even led to teenage suicide.

How can we counteract the effects of screen time on your children?

One word? Limit!

As screens are everywhere, we need to limit the exposure children have to screens and increase the time they spend playing meaningful games. It’s also important to explain to them why it is limited. Allow time where you as a parent play with your child, but also allow them to be bored and create their own games. This might mean allowing them to play in mud or bake cookies or build a fort in your lounge. In the end, however, you will be grateful!

Outdoor play is a great way to expose children to different textures, lowering texture sensitivity. Cooking and baking introduces measurement. Building blocks and forts aid spacial awareness, visual closure and measurement in connection with weight. In fact, many Mathematical concepts and skills are developed in play. Number concept is developed through play as children discover that 5 blocks build a smaller tower than 20 blocks, for example. Language skills are also developed through play. This block is big, that one is small. The chair is light so I can push it, but the couch is too heavy, and so on.

Is all screen time bad?

Some exposure is necessary, as we live in a world full of screens. We need to accept that screen time does form part of our children’s lives but if we don’t accept the dangers and try to counter the negative effects, we could have a generation of children wishing we had put in the effort to say no. If you allow limited screen time for the day, try to encourage shows or games that teach a skills or new information. In this way, screen time aids development in some way.

What would you say is the ideal amount of screen time for different age-groups?

Research shows that before the age of one, screen time has no benefit, only negative effects. From one to 5 no more than 2 hours of screen time a day. From 6 to 15 not more than three hours a day.