Screens Overstimulate Children and Alter Their Mood

Many parents entertain their children with screens, even though they overstimulate them. Nowadays, many children are hyperactive, irritable, and apathetic due to the constant use of new technologies.
Screens Overstimulate Children and Alter Their Mood
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Most people know that screens overstimulate children and make them moody, nervous, and even more argumentative. However, what many parents often overlook is how the intense use of these technologies is making their little ones more apathetic. Children’s moods are changing.

This is particularly evident in elementary and middle school classrooms. Irritability is almost the order of the day in some of these children, most of which have trouble relating to others. It also manifests in their ability to perform academic tasks and their limitations in retaining information, reasoning creatively, and solving simple problems.

Some say that modern parents are raising the most apathetic generation in history. However, there are exceptions, as many teenagers are even more concerned about the environment and other social causes than adults are.

However, from a psychological and clinical standpoint, we’re all witnessing how children between nine and 15 years of age are suffering from anxiety, sleep disturbances, and depressive or bipolar disorders. Some point out that the effect of the intensive and inadequate use of new technologies is behind these conditions.

“I force people to have coffee with me, just because I don’t trust that a friendship can be maintained without any other senses besides a computer or cell phone screen.”

-John Cusack-

A baby using a tablet.

Screens overstimulate children and make them cranky

The data is striking, to say the least. According to Common Sense Media , nearly half of children under eight have their own tablet and spend an average of 2.5 hours a day using it. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that children between the ages of two and eight shouldn’t have one more than one hour of screen time a day, always with an adult in front of them, and never during a meal.

But children under three years of age use these devices daily as entertainment. This is an age where manual interaction and social interaction are key. Nevertheless, some parents allow their little ones to become lonely digital natives at an age when their brain needs other stimuli.

New technologies aren’t a problem in themselves as long as they’re put to good use, as they’re powerful allies of knowledge. However, the problem lies in how much time children spend using them.

Researcher Domingues-Montanari stated that children spend more than three hours a day on their cell phones or tablets. The consequences of this stem from the fact that screens overstimulate children and make them irritable.

Mood dysregulation and intense use of screens

More children are being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (with or without hyperactivity), anxiety disorders, major depression, and even childhood bipolar disorder than ever. However, most of these conditions disappear when children undergo a “digital fasting”.

In other words, mood dysregulation disappears when the use of electronic screens is either reduced or entirely eliminated. This brain hyperactivity associated with the intense use of screens has, therefore, serious effects on behavior and mood.

Studies such as one conducted at the University of Pennsylvania support this relationship as well. The aforementioned study revealed that more than one hour of screen time a day from an early age until adolescence impacts psychological well-being. This causes children to be less curious and self-controlled, have trouble regulating their emotions, and not know how to socialize.

Reducing a child’s screen time could directly improve their well-being.

Screens overstimulate children and impact their sleep

Children should sleep more than adults. However, many children have a hard time falling asleep and don’t get restful and sustained rest throughout the night.

What’s the cause of this problem? Well, the trigger is the light from electronic devices. These hyper-activate the brain, reducing the release of melatonin and causing serious hormonal imbalances.

As you can see, screens overstimulate children and make them more irritable, apathetic, slow to react, and unmotivated.

A toddler with a cell phone.

Cell phones and tablets deplete brain energy

Children, and especially teenagers, live immersed in a digital universe that captures all their attention. Not only that but their entire cognitive and visual focus are at 100% when they’re exposed to screens. Thus, their mental level is at a minimum when they return to the real world.

The intense use of cell phones and tablets swallows all the attention and energy of young people. Thus, they have no motivation or encouragement left to do their homework or go outside to play when they leave the threshold of technology and turn off their devices.

Children who are addicted to screens

Screens overstimulate children and turn them into adrenaline junkies. What does this mean? Does it imply, for example, that a six-, seven-, or 12-year-old can actually be an “addict”?

In order to understand this relationship, you must understand that online gaming, as well as platforms such as TikTok, cause a dopamine release in young brains.

The feeling of well-being and entertainment becomes addictive. Thus, they need more and more hours of exposure for the same stimulus to produce the same level of pleasure. As you can imagine, they enter a state of withdrawal, constant irritability, frustration, and anger when they don’t get that “dopamine rush”.

The most problematic thing is that we’re raising children who no longer understand leisure without screens. They’re becoming people who filter their reality through technology and leave aside direct socialization in the real and immediate world.

To conclude, although new technologies are great tools, they only work in your favor if you use them properly.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Domingues-Montanari, S. (2017). Clinical and psychological effects of excessive screen time on children. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health53(4), 333–338.
  • Hutton, J. S., Dudley, J., Horowitz-Kraus, T., Dewitt, T., & Holland, S. K. (2020). Associations between Screen-Based Media Use and Brain White Matter Integrity in Preschool-Aged Children. JAMA Pediatrics174(1).
  • Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive medicine reports12, 271–283.
  • Zivan, M., Bar, S., Jing, X., Hutton, J., Farah, R., & Horowitz-Kraus, T. (2019). Screen-exposure and altered brain activation related to attention in preschool children: An EEG study. Trends in Neuroscience and Education17.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.