The Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Children

How can we determine the impact that screen time has on the general health of children and adolescents? Here, we'll talk about the associated factors and suggested interventions for parents in this regard.
The Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Children

Last update: 10 September, 2022

Today, in the technological age, screens are the leading actors in our day-to-day lives. Also, for children and adolescents who, in the last decade, have increased their use exponentially. A lack of information causes parents to allow their children to use these devices from a really early age. In fact, they tend to believe that their educational content will help their children’s development.

For this reason, it’s advisable to make the population aware of the negative implications associated with excessive screen time in children. Furthermore, the importance of interaction with the real world for a child to develop adequately. Next, we’ll take a closer look at the subject to provide clarity in the framework of education and new technologies.

boy with a mobile
A sedentary lifestyle and some behavior problems are related to prolonged exposure to screens in children.

Glued to the screen

When we talk about screen time, we mean viewing time on various types of screens. For example, computers, TVs, video games, phones, and tablets. It’s been associated with both health benefits and risks in children and adolescents.

Some of the benefits of using screens include exposure to new teaching methods that may be more in line with a natural learning style, more opportunities for social contact, and easier access to health promotion messages and information.

On the other hand, the risks include negative health effects with respect to weight, sleep, and mood, exposure to inappropriate or unsafe contact and content, and compromised privacy and confidentiality.

Factors associated with excessive screen time

Next, we’ll explain more extensively some of the effects that occur when a child spends an inordinate amount of time in front of a screen. These effects directly challenge the daily dynamics and the internal and external development of the family environment.

  • Sedentary lifestyle. Excessive screen time in children and adolescents is predominantly associated with sedentary behaviors. This influences their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.
  • Obesity. Increased screen viewing has been associated with detrimental dietary changes that influence weight gain. That’s because time spent watching television or playing computer games is inversely related to diet quality in children.
  • Poor diet. Children often watch television while eating meals at home. This is associated with the intake of certain food groups that are mostly unhealthy.
  • Inadequate sleep schedules and not getting enough sleep. The widespread use of electronic devices and the normalization of screen devices in the bedroom is accompanied by a high prevalence of sleep deprivation. It affects the majority of adolescents and 30 percent of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children.
  • Developmental disturbance. It’s been significantly associated with delayed motor skills and delayed cognitive and language development as well as poorer academic performance.
  • Psychological well-being. Psychological well-being is progressively lower when children (especially adolescents) spend between one to seven hours a day in front of a screen. In young children, it’s associated with less curiosity, self-control, and emotional stability.
  • Behavioral problems. Lack of attention and less learning time.

Parents are the main referents for children

The fact that children talk about their TV watching time with their parents affects the quality of reception of the messages. Children who have clear limits for the consumption of content on screens present a higher level of activity with the medium. In addition, they understand more clearly the values and counter values that are introduced in the images. They’re also more skillful when it comes to differentiating reality from fiction,

On the contrary, those who don’t usually talk to their parents about it and, therefore, don’t have any guidelines, tend to confuse the interpretation of meanings. For this reason, in order to achieve the quality television that they want, parents have to become aware of the importance for them to act as guides with regard to the content that their children watch.

The reality of screen interaction

It should be noted that, as a rule, most children state that they tend to adapt to their parents’ television preferences more than their parents do to theirs. Evidence that supports this is that few parents watch cartoons with their children. This is contrary to what happens, for example, with news programs – the kind of content that children don’t usually like much.

Consequently, some questions remain open, such as: Why do parents say they don’t have time to watch television with their children when the amount of time that they watch TV exceeds that of their children by more than an hour? Why are parents not interested in what their children are watching when they watch programs the children don’t even like with them?

kids watching tv, depicting effects of excessive screen time in children
Spending time with children and being interested in what they see on screens is essential.

Indicated interventions and suggestions

The American Academy of Pediatrics makes the following recommendations for parents:

  • Education about brain development in the early years.
  • Instruction in the importance of practical and social play to develop linguistic, cognitive, and socio-emotional skills.
  • Keep all screen devices out of children’s bedrooms.
  • Avoid using technological media as the only way to calm children down.
  • Avoid violent and scary shows. Content matters.
  • Avoid spending time in front of the screen during meals and an hour before bed.
  • Set age-appropriate limits for your child’s screen time.
  • Makes sure that screen time doesn’t interfere with restful sleep, regular exercise, or other healthy and educational activities.

“The Internet is built by you, together with many others, so together we must make it a safe and positive place. The use you make of technology will tell who you are, tell the best and worst of you, and will be the key to having a life – real and digital – intelligent, fun, and useful.”

-Maria Zabala-

The Canadian Pediatric Society mentions that the quality of screen time is as important as the quantity. It recommends advising parents to be present and participate when their children use screens. Furthermore, they should be encouraged to use educational, active, and social applications over those that are passive and lonely. All of these suggestions contribute to a child’s overall healthier development.

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