In today’s tech driven world, many parents are using screens to keep their children entertained while getting other needs accomplished and giving parents a breather. According to Common Sense Media, Nearly half of all children 8 and under have their own tablet device and spend an average of about 2.25 hours a day on digital screens. There is much still to learn, but scientists and researchers have collected enough data to know that too much screen time can have a negative effect on kids’ mental health, in addition to how they learn, sleep, and interact with others.
The Younger Years
For young children, especially those 3 and under, development is happening rapidly. At this age, children learn from their environment by means of exploring, playing with toys to foster imagination and creativity, and interacting with humans. If most of their time is spent engaging on an iPad, smartphone, or television, all of which are highly entertaining, it can be hard to get them engaged in non-electronic activities.
There is solid evidence that shows children under 2 learn far less from television or video than when learning through face-to-face interaction with parents and caregivers. At this age, children have difficulty transferring new learning from a 2D representation to a 3D object (screen to real life). Early learning is easier and much more enriching when experienced live, interactively, in real time and space, and with real people (26–29). Early data from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study showed children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests; some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex (which is the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning).
Tweens and Teens:
All kids have different susceptibility to the positive and negative effects of social media, depending on who they are. Some tweens and teens are more prone to social anxiety (and the fear of missing out), some have trouble self-regulating the time spent online, and some maybe connecting with peers in a positive way while others are using social media to compare and view others’ lives. How they use social media may determine its impact on your child. Studies have shown that for girls who are exposed to social media for at least two to three hours a day, starting at around age 13, had a greater increased risk for depression or suicide, as emerging adults. However, there is little longitudinal research on this topic. At the end of the day, it’s important to monitor what they are doing online and explain what’s not OK. Encourage face-to-face contact with friends and remind your child that social media is full of unrealistic images.