Parents tend to think that their children need to have technology in order to be able to keep up with the world, and they are probably right. However, there is such a thing as taking this too far as well. But how much screen time really is too much? Let’s take a look at some facts, statistics, and guidelines.
Statistics on Kids’ Screen Exposure
UK based clothing manufacturer Vertbaudet had completed a survey that showed some interesting facts and statistics on screen behavior:
- 80% of parents think gadgets and technology are good for their children and they help in their development.
- 37% stated their kids spent between one and two hours a day using technology.
- 28% stated their children spent between two and three hours a day using technology.
- 38% of two to five year old children own Android tablets, and 32% own iPads.
- 32% of two to five year old children have their own mobile phone.
- 35% of parents used gadgets as a form of entertainment.
- 23% said they wanted their children to become tech-savvy.
Last year, tech giant AO.com completed a similar study. They found that:
- 85% of parents with children aged two to 12 used technology to give their kids something to do.
- The average time a child spends staring at a screen a week is 17 hours. Compare this to just 8.8 hours spent playing outside.
A range of other studies have tackled that particular subject, and they found that:
- Children have access to at least five screens by the time they are 10.
- Kids have access to screens in their bedrooms.
- Children have spent a full year timewise watching screens.
The above statistics are pretty shocking in terms of how much time kids actually spend watching screens. But why is that a problem at all? Let’s take a look at the 11 reasons why you really need to minimize how much time your children spend in front of a screen.
1. It Affects Academic Grades
A study has found that the end of high school grades of children who spent one hour per day more looking at a screen than their peers were lower. It is a known fact that children learn much better through real human interaction. Furthermore, a television stops your child from thinking creatively and analytically. It also means they spend less time reading and writing. It has also been shown that the constant background noise of television makes it more difficult for children to concentrate, which means they don’t pay as much attention.
2. It Affects Their Weight
If a child watches more than four hours per day watching television, they are more likely to be overweight. One of the reasons for this is because children are constantly exposed to advertisements for junk and snack foods. Additionally, children often eat mindlessly while they watch television. Furthermore, when a child is watching a screen, they are not moving, which means they are not burning calories either.
3. It Makes Them More Aggressive
Studies have shown that children who are exposed to violence shown on the screen are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. This may be because they experience the world as a dangerous place. The statistics on aggressive behavior are frightening to say the least:
- By the time he or she is 18, an American child will have seen 200,000 acts of violence on television, as well as 16,000 murders.
- 66% of all programs have acts of violence in them.
- Children’s programs are often more violent than adult programs (think Tom & Jerry).
- Violence on TV is often glamorized, goes unpunished, and is even accompanied by humor.
- Studies have shown that when kids watch violence, they become less likely to help other people when they are in need.
4. It Makes Them More Bigoted
Television programs and computer games exhibit gender and racial stereotypes. This means children are more likely to continue to uphold bigoted views. Additionally, games often show risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and promiscuity, which children are more likely to repeat.
5. It Can Develop Behavioral Problems
Various pieces of research have now shown that children who spend more than three hours per day watching screens are more likely to have relationship, emotional, and behavioral problems.
6. It Damages Their Eyes
Our mothers used to tell us that watching too much TV would make our eyes go square. It now appears that they may have had a point. Children who watch a lot of screens often have narrowed arteries in their eyes. These can cause significant damage.
7. It Damages Their Heart
The same narrowing of the arteries can also lead to heart problems. A study completed in 2014, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, showed that kids between the ages of two and 20 who spend at least two hours per day watching a screen increase their risk of high blood pressure by 30%. If they also didn’t engage in any physical activity, this risk increased to 50%. These findings were similar to those of a 2009 study.
8. It Increases Their Chances of Being Bullied
It is not clear yet why children who spend more time watching screens are at a higher risk of being bullied, but the link is clearly there. It is believed that this is because these children are less physically strong, which places them at a disadvantage. The fact that they are more likely to be obese may also be an important factor.
9. It Develops Addictive Personalities
When children start watching excessive television when they are young, they are likely to continue to do so later on in life, as it becomes a habit. Furthermore, the brain becomes addicted to entertainment screen media. Once people develop an addiction to one thing, they are more likely to develop an addiction to another as well. This is because watching television releases dopamine, which is the reward hormone, and our brain then starts to associate watching screens with good behavior. Perhaps more worrying is the fact that some games, like Grand Theft Auto, promote bad behavior as being good behavior. This leads to the dopamine receptors rewarding people for the wrong actions.
10. It Leads to False Feelings of Competence
Someone who is good at gaming is not necessarily good at anything else in life, but doesn’t often realize this. Children struggle to see where the difference lies between the real world and the virtual world. As such, they may be very good at a certain game and believe that those are real life skills (including driving and shooting).
11. It Causes Sleep Disruption
There has been a number of pieces of research that have demonstrated that the ‘blue light’ emitted by screens disturb sleep patterns. This is because this light is short wavelength enriched, which means it affects melatonin. The bedroom now seems to be a place for recreational use, rather than rest and recuperation. Fortunately, there are devices that minimize this, such as the Kindle Paperwhite. There is also the issue that screens encourage the brain to be excited, rather than be at rest.
Guidelines for Parents in Terms of Their Kids Exposure to Screens
The following guidelines should be beneficial in terms of minimizing the risks to your children:
- Children under three should not be exposed to any screens at all.
- Children over three should spend no more than two hours per day using a screen, excluding homework.
- Children’s bedrooms should be devoid of screens.
- Have rules in place to minimize how much time your children can spend in front of a screen, but also in terms of what they can watch.
- Talk to your children so that they know why you are being strict with their exposure.
- Lead by example. Don’t expect your children not to watch TV in their bedroom if you do.
- Go out and play with your children. They will love it, and you will too. Plus, it provides health benefits for all of you.
- PG ratings are in place for a reason. Don’t allow your 5 year old to play a PG 12 game, just because the 12 year old brother can.
Reading the above, it would be easy to think that our children are doomed. They are not. The reality, however, is that technology has developed more quickly than we are able to keep up with, and we are all trying to learn how to adapt to this. We don’t know much yet about the exact long term effects of prolonged screen use, nor do we really know how much screen time is too much. The most prominent piece of research up to now has been the Bobo Doll, but that has been widely discredited. However, other pieces of research are now demonstrating that there are definite issues with screen usage on children and you should do your best to lower it as much as possible. After all, you are missing out on precious time with your kids as well. Go out and do something, putting the screens away for a while. You and your children may just love it.
Resources and References:
Television and Children – Effects of TV on children. (University of Michigan)
How Do You Entertain Your Children? Introducing the Modern vs. Traditional Campaign – Survey on how parents keep their children entertained. (Vertbaudet)
The Nation’s Attitude to Play – Survey of British mothers on technology and play for their children. (AO.com)
Health: Young Kids’ Screen Time May Raise Blood Pressure – Relationship of how long children use technological devices and their blood pressure. (U.S. News & World Report)
Study: Children’s Poor Motor, Social Skills Linked to too Much Television Watching – Link between too much TV and poor motor and social skills in children. (CBS Atlanta)