My brain hurts..
Let's talk about screen time.
HERE'S THE HONEST TRUTH...
The world has changed. It will never be 'how it was in the old days'. That's just a fact. We will always have screens, and they will keep getting smaller (or more gigantic), and more efficient, and more ubiquitous. We can't change that. We can't stop that. And we don't want to.
What we DO want to do is to bring back awareness to how screen time and technology is significantly shaping our lives...often without us even being aware. How often have you picked up your phone or tablet and gone on social media to have a 'quick' scroll or check of something, only to find yourself there hours later, watching, searching or scrolling through completely random stuff, wondering how did I get to looking at this?!
This is not an accident. It's deliberate. There are actual algorithms designed to keep you there on the platform. It is 100% calculated, intentional, and purposefully designed to keep you watching, and scrolling, or playing. Very clever, but also very manipulative.
The platforms call it 'engagement', but what it really is is an algorithm to manipulate your watch behaviour- both the type of content, and the time you spend watching or playing. It is there to influence you, to keep you binge watching, and to keep you coming back for more. These algorithms are not designed to to take your well-being into account in any way, manner or form. They are designed with the sole purpose of keeping you there. The longer you are there, the more advertisements you will see, and the more money they will make. No big secret.
We can't escape screens and technology but we can learn to take charge of it. Not all screen time is bad. Some of it can even be good and positive. Especially when it connects people, there is quality content, and you actually have control over when you switch off. No really,.. that word is underlined for a reason. It's very easy to say 'just switch off' but it can be extraordinarily hard. And it's not your fault. These platforms are designed this way in a deliberate manner to KEEP YOU WATCHING.
And when we lose control over the quality and duration of our watch time.....well that is when problems start to arise.
SO Exactly HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
THE Recommended Hours of screen time for Children
Per Day are:
Less than 2 years of age
2- 5 years
5-17 years of age
(*this doesn't include screen time needed for school work.)
*Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians (24-hour movement guidelines for the early years and children and young people) May 2021, https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians
Let's take a look at some of the harmful effects of excessive screen time in children...
Screens can be a great tool for children when used properly. Especially when:
i) screen-time is supervised;
ii) screen-time is of high quality, educational content
iii) screen-time does not exceed the recommended guidelines.
But when screens are not used responsibly, that's when things can take a negative turn. And the harmful effects can quickly add up.
Excessive screen time can lead to some serious consequences for children. Unfortunately, it's all too easy for this to happen especially when:
- children spend long periods sitting still in front of a screen,
- when screen-time is not supervised
- when the content is low-quality
To help you better understand some of the risks, here's a rundown of some of the negative effects excessive screen time can have on kids' brains and bodies.
* Please note that research is constantly evolving and we strongly believe in sharing only good quality, evidence based research. Please stay tuned as we update our evidence based research library where we will endeavour to share high quality evidence based articles published in this area.
Screen time overload can result in weight gain in children because they might be:
- Less active while they're watching screens
- Mindlessly snacking during that time
- Getting swayed by junk food ads. These commercials can seriously impact a child's food choices of what they want to eat, what they ask their parents to buy at the shops, and what they end up eating.
- And let's not forget, when screen time keeps children up late at night, it can also mess with their sleep, contributing to weight gain.
Lower physical strength
Staying glued to screens can lead to weaker muscles, especially in young children under 6 years old. Studies show that too much screen time is linked to lower physical strength and reduced gross motor skills. The World Health Organization recommends an hour of moderate to intense physical activity per day for kids aged 5 to 17, but research suggests that this isn't enough to counterbalance the harmful impact of screens.
Poor sleep quality
Staring at screens for too long can lead to sleep trouble, thanks to the blue light emitted from screens which messes with the body's natural production of melatonin. Not only can screen time shorten the amount of sleep children get, but it can also make it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. Good quality sleep is crucial for developing their brain, especially during childhood and adolescence, and it can have a big impact on how well they do in school.
Decreased Social connections
Spending too much time in front of screens can lead to reduced face-to-face time with friends and greater feelings of isolation. It's important to note though that when managed properly, screens can also help children connect with others, foster creativity, facilitate idea exchange, and enhance interpersonal skills.
Research has shown that too much screen time can lead to behavioral problems like hyperactivity and struggles with focus and attention span.
Effects on well-being
Spending too much time in front of screens can have negative impacts on mood and overall well-being. It has been linked to increased feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as issues with self-esteem caused by constant comparison to others on screens or the stereotypical representation of characters and people. These negative effects can take a toll on both adults and children alike.
More screen time means less play time and interactions with others, which can affect cognitive, motor and language development. For children less than 2 years old, television viewing has mostly negative associations, especially for language and cognitive function. For preschool-aged children, television viewing has been found to have both positive and negative outcomes.
Positive benefits of screen time in children over 2 years of age are more likely to occur when:
- there is high-quality media content
- strategies are used to support a child's development (e.g labelling of objects, characters speaking directly to the child, allowing opportunities for the child to respond)
- there is co-viewing with an adult.
Exposure to harmful content
Watching violent and negative content on screens can 'normalise' this behaviour, children can also be exposed to bullying and inappropriate messages or content.
As a result of less time outdoors, less blinking, dry eyes, eye strain and fatigue.
Neck and back pain
As a result of being hunched over screens and holding a poor posture for lengthy periods.
Effects on critical thinking and reasoning
This has been observed in children who have excessive amounts of screen time (more than 7 hours per day) and can affect a child's ability to plan and their levels of empathy.
Difficulties with impulse control
Weak impulse control has been associated with heavy use of mobile phones or tablets, multi-tasking with many different forms of media, and excessive television watching (>3 hours per day).
Be less ready for school and find it harder to learn to read
Children who watch more television at a young age may exhibit less school readiness. This can manifest as less classroom engagement, decreased vocabulary, and less knowledge about numbers, and is more likely to occur when a child has excessive screen time that is unsupervised.
Excessive screen time is particularly harmful when it is poor quality content and unsupervised.
Check out our Resource Section. We've gathered the best information and tools to help you and your kids take back control of your screen-time.