How much is too much?

How much is too much?

The next time you’re in a public place, take a moment to count how many people are engaged with an electronic device such as a smartphone, tablet, e-reader or computer. These days, odds are that most people will be utilizing technology in some way when they’re exercising, at a restaurant or hanging out with friends.

While adults and children spend a lot of time with technology, the question remains – is all that screen time healthy?

Probably not, according to recent reports that have shown large amounts of screen time can have a negative impact on children’s well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages use of screen media other than video-chatting for children 18 months or younger and recommends parents select and watch high-quality programming with children 18 to 24 months old to help them understand what they are seeing. They recommend screen time be limited to one hour per day for children 2 to 5-years-old, and to continue limiting screen time for children 6 or older to ensure this age group participates in developmentally appropriate activities, gets adequate sleep and exercises.

A recent study in Preventive Medicine Reports showed that after one hour a day, more hours of screen time could cause children and teens to have less curiosity, self-control and emotional stability and impact their ability to finish tasks. The study found that more screen time was associated with lower well-being in children, though the impact was greater on adolescents than young children.

“I am not surprised at all by these findings,” says Dr. Jeremy Daigle, a pediatrician at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. “In our day and age, children are becoming less social due to their preoccupation with electronics. Children can become so fixated with social media that they’re losing the human-to-human interactions that are so pertinent to being able to thrive in the real world.”

Despite indications that even one hour of screen time can negatively impact a child’s well-being, it seems today’s youth are spending much more than just 60 minutes a day with technology. The National Institute of Health estimates that kids today spend between five and seven of their leisure hours with screens.

To conduct the study published in Preventive Medicine, researchers from San Diego State University analyzed data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, which looked at behaviors like daily screen time, among others. Through reviewing the data, they found that children who spent more than seven hours on screens daily were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety than those who only interacted with screens for one hour per day. The older the children were, the more screen time impacted well-being. Dr. Daigle says teenagers could be more negatively impacted by large quantities of screen time because of the concrete, black and white way in which they perceive the world.

“Adolescents very rarely are able to perceive the future and long-term consequences of what’s going on in their world.  Therefore, they can’t interpret everything they see on their screens in a logical and mature manner,” says Dr. Daigle. “If they form much of their lives around their screen and social media experiences, it can affect how they maneuver in life in general, and not always for the better.”

Dr. Daigle recommends setting boundaries around screen time at an early age. Limiting screen time from the start can sometimes be easier than trying to set strict boundaries later. When thinking about the screen time rules in your house, Dr. Daigle recommends parents first be aware of how their children are interacting with technology and how often they’re using it. He says monitoring your child’s screen time is not a bad thing. When it’s time to have a boundary-setting conversation about screen time, Dr. Daigle says parents should explain to their children why it’s important to have rules around screen time, especially when speaking with adolescents who appreciate knowing the ‘rhyme and reason’ behind decisions.

Not all screen time is bad. In today’s world, most children and adults will interact with screens daily. The key is making sure that screen time is productive, developmentally appropriate and monitored. Additionally, parents and caregivers need to make sure children are participating in other age-appropriate activities to help them grow and develop.

“We need to make sure we are equipping the next generation to be prepared and molded into the best person they can be when it’s time to go out into the real world,” says Dr. Daigle. It makes all the difference in what kind of future the child may experience.

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About the Author

Colette Harris
Colette Harris

Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.