We’ve reached a strange point in history in which an entire generation of people has never lived without incredibly modern technology like the internet, smartphones, and social media. You’re as likely to see a toddler with a tablet as a toddler with a stuffed teddy. Perhaps you’re a parent of young children yourself, and someway or another technology has made its way into the everyday experience of your kids. But should parents and caregivers be concerned about the amount of screen time their children are getting? Let’s join in the conversation among academics studying this very question. Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia recently published research in the Preventive Medicine Reports on the effects of screen time on the wellbeing of American children aged 2 to 17. They found that screen time beyond one hour a day was associated with “less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks.” What’s more, a large sample of American children from 2016 data showed that those with high amounts of screen time each day had twice as many diagnoses for anxiety and depression than children with low screen time. Other insights from the study include:
- Both high use of screen time (7 hours or more) and moderate use (4 hours) were linked to overall lower psychological wellbeing compared to low use (1 hour)
- Preschoolers exposed to high amounts of screen time are twice as likely as low users to fall into temper tantrums and 46% more likely to become uncontrollably hyper when excited.
- The longer teens spent on their screens on average, the less likely they were to complete tasks assigned to them.
- Moderate and high screen time use was linked to lower levels of curiosity and interest in learning new things in children aged 11-13.
Interestingly, the link between high screen time and poor mental and emotional wellbeing seemed to be stronger among adolescents than young children. Professor Twenge said: “At first, I was surprised the associations were larger for adolescents. However, teens spend more time on their phones and on social media, and we know from other research that these activities are more strongly linked to low wellbeing than watching television and videos, which is most of younger children’s screen time.” Luckily, Twenge and Campbell’s findings suggest that children who have controlled screen time and children with no screen time at all have more or less the same level of wellbeing. This means that it’s not necessary to cut all TV, video games, and computer time to ensure healthy development for your children.
According to the University of Michigan Health System, about 25% of parents with kids from 2-5 years old report that their child averages more than 3 hours of screen time every day. 47% of parents fail to meet expert guides for age-appropriate screen time limits, and a full 13% of parents say they don’t limit their children’s screen time at all! (2) Experts discourage any screen time for toddlers and to limit children and adolescents to a maximum of two hours total screen time a day (including television, games, and social media).
Researchers from the University of Guelph report that most parents use screen time to control behavior, especially on weekends, where kids spend an average of 20 additional minutes on screens compared to weekdays. Their study revealed that many parents are using screen time as a reward for good behavior, and the removing screen time privileges as a consequence for misbehaving. The result, researchers write, is that children are naturally more interested in the activity.
Watch:Some experts, on the other hand, claim that regular use of technology like tablets and smartphones might actually have a few cognitive benefits.