Your Time is Limited: Look Around You
By Antonia Barrick, RN, BSN, PHN, LSN
Hutchinson Public Schools Health Services Coordinator
Digital media and screens have become a staple in our lives. We live in an era that we have everything at our fingertips and are forgetting how to promote interpersonal relationships and communication. Our phones are connected to our schedules, bank accounts, the internet and cameras. However, do we understand the impact screen time and digital media are having on our children’s development? Children are consuming 7+ hours of screen time per day, which is an increase of 2.5 hours in 10 years.
Ongoing research is showing guidelines for limiting screen time for younger children: no screen/digital media for children under 2 years of age, no more than 1 hour for children 2-5 years of age and less than 2 hours for children 6-18 years of age. In spite of these guidelines studies are showing children are spending on average 2 hours per day between 3 and 5 years of age and on average up to 7 hours on children over 8 years of age.
The brain is continually developing, especially in early childhood when development of emotional regulation and attachment, language, cognitive, socio-emotional and motor skills happen as well as physical development (ages birth to 8). “Middle childhood (usually defined as ages 6 to 12) is a time when children develop foundational skills for building healthy social relationships and learn roles that will prepare them for adolescence and adulthood.” This can be slowed by over use of screens and digital media. Studies show shrinkage or loss (atrophy) of gray matter especially in the frontal lobe, striatum and insula of the brain in comparison to internet/gaming addictions. The frontal lobe continues to develop and undergo massive changes from puberty to mid-twenties and is responsible for executive functioning (planning, prioritizing, and organizing) as well as impulse control. The striatum aids in reward pathways and the ability to decrease unacceptable social impulses. Lastly, the insula is an area that helps with empathy and ability to identify body signals of different emotions. The brain also develops responses to preferred activities that releases dopamine (reward/pleasure chemical). When a person is addicted or enjoys screen time the brain releases dopamine to tell the person this makes me happy, hence the addiction and anxiety to always checking the phone, tablet, TV, computer.
If children are exposed to screen time/digital media at a younger age or for excessive times the brain develops an addiction and can inhibit individuals’ ability to process face-to-face interactions. Children strive for attention and if a parent is on their phone/device the child will most likely act out to gain that attention, which some individuals may look at that as a behavior or reward the behavior with the tablet, TV, or device, thus continuing the vicious circle. The developmental periods for children who rely on digital interaction rather than face-to-face interactions or reduced caregiving from parents who are also attached to their devices can hinder school success, health literacy, self-discipline, the ability to make good decisions, healthy eating habits and conflict negotiation. The reliance on screen time can also decrease creative imagination and play time and in turn increase boredom.
So what can we do?
10 questions to Consider:
- What kind of screens are in your home (i.e. TV, tablet, computer, smartphone)? Which does your child use? Which do you use?
- Is watching TV or programs/movies on other devices a shared family activity and a common way to relax? How often is a screen on in the background although no one is really watching?
- Does anyone in the family use screens during meal times?
- What do you watch with your child and what does your child watch alone?
- Do you encourage or discourage conversation with your child while using screens?
- Do you ever watch adult content with your child around?
- Does your child use screens while you do chores around the home?
- Are there any screen-based activities in your child’s day care program? Do you know how much these are used?
- Does your child use any kind of screen before bedtime? How long before bed? Is there a screen in their room or charged in their room?
- Does your family have rules/guidelines for screen use that everyone understands and follows such as “device free times”?
Information obtained from:
Healthy People 2020
NPR.org Kids and Screen Time: What does the Research Say?
Canadian Paediatric Society
And Psychology Today
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood