Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant
Screen time refers to the amount of time spent looking at a device with a screen, including smartphones, iPads, computers, and TVs. While screen time has an effect on people of all ages, children are particularly sensitive to it.
With many children doing virtual learning due to the current pandemic, screen time is often unavoidable. However, it’s important for parents and caregivers to take a look at their children’s use of screens outside of necessary learning activities and understand the impact screens have on kids.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 2 years and older get no more than 2 hours of screen time a day. However, in spite of those recommendations, the average child in the U.S. gets more than 7 hours of recreational screen time a day. Here are five negative effects excess screen time has on children.
1. It causes physical changes to the brain.
When scientists performed brain scans on children and adolescents who engaged in excessive screen time, they found alarming changes in their brains. Children who spent more than 2 hours a day watching T.V. or playing video games were more likely to have atrophy in their brain’s frontal lobe, which is responsible for impulse control, empathy, and organization. They were also at an increased risk of having disruptions to their white matter, which is responsible for connecting the left and right brain hemispheres, and for processing signals related to cognitive functions.
2. It negatively affects academic performance.
Researchers found that children who got 2-4 hours a day of recreational screen time were 23% less likely to finish their homework than children who got less than 2 hours. Children who got 6 or more hours of media exposure a day were 63% less likely to finish their homework than the children who got less than 2 hours.
Excess screen time has also been linked to a decrease in reading comprehension and math scores on standardized tests. Every additional hour of screen time a child got per day resulted in a further drop in their scores.
3. It interferes with healthy sleep patterns.
Children who have a screen in their bedroom get less sleep on average than children whose bedrooms don’t have devices with screens. The effect screens have on sleep happens for two reasons. First, watching stimulating content can make it more difficult for the child’s brain and body to settle into sleep. Second, the blue light emitted from screens decreases the levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin in the brain, making it more difficult for a child to fall asleep and stay asleep.
4. It has been linked to behavioral problems.
Not only does excess screen time cause changes that are visible on brain imaging; it also causes observable changes in children’s behavior. Due to a combination of sensory overload, hyperarousal of the nervous system, and decreased sleep quantity and quality, children who have excess exposure to screens are more likely to be moody, aggressive and impulsive, and have difficulty paying attention.
5. It promotes sedentary activities.
Childhood obesity has become an increasingly prevalent problem in the U.S. Over the past 3 decades, obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that screen time is to blame in as many as 60% of cases of childhood obesity.
When a child is watching a movie, playing a video game, or using a phone app, they’re not burning many calories or getting any cardiovascular exercise. Also, children are more prone to engage in mindless snacking when they’re watching a screen, which increases their caloric intake.
For optimum health, the CDC recommends that children and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day.
At GoHealth Urgent Care, we’re open 7 days a week, and we care for kids ages 6 months and up.