Every parent knows that too much screen time is bad for our kids. We’ve all seen the articles about how overuse of technology can impact our children’s (and our) sleep and lead to irritability, withdrawal, and even addiction. But there are other, lesser-known consequences from too much tech use that parents should know as they decide what screen time limits to set for their family.
In recent years, experts have begun to shift their recommendations on screen time for school age children from absolutes to a more flexible set of guidelines that better reflect the reality of how technology is integrated into our daily lives.
For kids aged 5 and older, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that families create a screen time schedule that works for them. While this approach is more feasible for modern families and acknowledges that tech use does have benefits for kids, it also means that it’s more important than ever for parents to educate themselves about the risks of too much screen time — so they can make choices that are right for their kids.
As tech use among children increases, so does the research into the potential risks of overdoing it. Here are a few findings you may not know:
Studies have shown that overuse of digital technology can cause developmental problems in children. These include a lack of attention, delays in language and social and emotional development, and lower creativity. In a 2018 study, higher frequency of internet use was associated with decreased verbal intelligence and smaller increase in brain volume in children.
Too much tech time can lead to issues such as aggressive behavior, social incompatibility, anxiety, and dependence. Children with problematic internet use tend to use the internet to feel better about negative emotions, which can lead to an unhealthy relationship with technology.
Although technology is an integral and unavoidable part of today’s education system, it’s worth noting that overdoing it can have negative consequences in the classroom. Too much tech use can lead to a lack of attention, cause children to use their time inefficiently, and impact overall academic performance.
Use of digital technology and the associated physical inactivity has been shown to have various physical impacts on children. These impacts include headaches, abdominal pain, greater risk of musculoskeletal problems, obesity, and poor sleep quality.
While all of this might sound dire, there’s no need to throw the iPad out the window in order to keep your kids healthy. In fact, experts now suggest that reasonable exposure to screens and technology is useful and even necessary to help prepare kids to thrive and succeed in an increasingly digital world.
Instead, the answer is a thoughtful and flexible approach to technology. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Monitor your children for warning signs of too much tech time, such as difficulty sleeping, irritability, and difficulty staying off screens. If you become concerned, implement changes to adjust their screen use.
For example, you might work with your child to set screen time limits around certain times of the day — like no screens after dark. Replace mindless scrolling with screen-free activities before bedtime, like reading a book or listening to a podcast together.
The right approach to limits on tech use in your family can be as unique as you are. Some kids might respond well to more general guidelines, while others may need specific time limits. Experiment to figure out what works for your household, and consider putting rules down in writing with a digital device contract. Be ready to adjust as your children get older or if you find your approach is no longer working.
One of the biggest things parents can do to ensure their children develop a healthy relationship with technology is to provide them with plenty of opportunities for other activities.
Helping your children get involved in extracurricular activities, loading up their shelf with library books, encouraging them to get outside, and facilitating time with friends are all great ways to minimize the chances they overuse screens in their downtime.
If you really want to increase the chances your children will form positive digital habits, lead by example in your own life. The more your kids see you engaging in activities that don’t involve technology, the greater likelihood they will follow suit. Taking this step also helps to find things you can do together as a family that don’t rely on screens.
Too much technology is linked to a variety of negative consequences for children. Parents can minimize the risks by monitoring for warning signs and helping their kids develop a healthy, balanced relationship with screens.