Screen Time and Children: Helpful or Harmful?

Hello Mommies and Daddies.  Thank you for reading with me today!  Happyhealthychildren.org is here to provide you with scientific information that will help you raise the happiest, healthiest children possible.  In keeping with that, I want to talk with you today about one of the most important topics in modern-day child-rearing: screen time.  The reason screen time is such an important topic is because the use of screens among today’s children is almost universal. Yet the implications of screen time on children’s happiness and health is rarely discussed.

How common is screen time?

First, let’s get a sense of how big of an issue screen time usage in children is. According to the Kaiser Foundation, American children 8-18 years of age spend an average of 7 1/2 hours per day on non-education related screen time. In other words, American children spend more time on the screen than they do interacting with their families, reading, exercising or anything else aside from sleeping.

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Is screen time helpful or harmful: what does the data show

Now that we know how prevalent screen time is among American children, let us take a look at the scientific data to see whether it is making them happy and healthy.

Screen time in very young children: what are its effects on development

Studies have shown that young children exposed to screen time fall behind their peers in achieving basic developmental milestones.  These are the skills that children develop and build on, eventually allowing them to independently interact with the world around them.  Examples of these milestones are speaking, walking, developing fine motor skills, etc.  

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Why does spending time on the screen impede development?

You may ask why spending time on a screen should impede the development of basic skills in children.  One hypothesis is that, because children are on a screen for so many hours per day, they miss out on the time they would otherwise be spending drawing, writing, kicking a ball, interacting with adults and peers, etc. Therefore, they do not learn these basic skills. Again, these developmental skills are the building blocks that allow children to go on to master important life skills, such as writing and reading, athletics and arts, and successful interaction with others.  Therefore, being delayed in these developmental skills due screen time is harmful to children long-term.

Screen time and educational attainment

Let’s take a look at older children.  Are there any negative effects of screen time in older children? The answer is yes! Screen time negatively impacts children’s educational achievements in both elementary school and in advanced grades. In fact, adolescents who spend more time on a screen drop out of school at a higher rate than those who do not.

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As a general rule, the more education a person has, the higher their quality of life. If you can read and write properly, do mathematics, understand basic scientific principles, and have any type of advanced degree, your life will generally be easier than someone without these educational achievements. Please don’t get me wrong. I know that not all children are headed towards the life of a scientist, mathematician or famous novelist. Again, we are talking about attaining basic life skills and knowledge that people need to have a good quality of life. Let’s keep our children off screens so that they have a higher chance of completing their education and having a better quality of life.

Does screen time impact children medically?

Now that we’ve discussed how screen time affects children developmentally and educationally, let’s take a look at the medical implications of children spending time on a screen. Studies have shown that children who spend a significant amount of time on a screen have higher rates of obesity, poor cardiovascular fitness, metabolic syndrome, poor diet, depression, lower self-esteem, anxiety, insomnia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder then children who do not.

As you can see, the list of medical problems associated with the use of screen time in children is very significant. 

Combating screen time use in 2022

What are ways to combat this destructive habit? The good news is, if you are just planning a pregnancy or you have very young children, this will be easy for you.  Just don’t get your children started on a screen. If your children ask you why their friends all have iPads and they do not, explain to them that computers are harmful to children and that you would rather them partake in healthy pastimes rather than screen time.  

What if your children are already engaged in screen time?

Once children become used to spending their spare time on a screen, it becomes harder for parents to get them away from this habit.  Remember, however, that you are the parent.  Even if you allowed screen time in the past, it is never too late to change your family’s patterns. 

If you live in an area where your children can go out and play with the neighbors or at the local park, emphasize and encourage this. Say no to the screen and have them go outside and play instead.  Although they will argue with you initially, they will end up enjoying their outdoor play more than they did their time on the screen. 

When you are at a restaurant, do not put your children in front of a screen. Use the time to talk with your children and get to know what’s on their minds. Teach them how to sit at a table and have a proper dinner discussion.

Plan activities for your children.  Sign them up for after-school soccer or art club.  Yes, this takes more time, energy and financial resources. But, trust me, it will be more satisfying than having your family just watch television after dinner.  Consider cancelling your cable subscription or Netflix if you need some extra cash to pay for their activities. If you work in the evenings, lean on your spouse and your parents, if possible, to help you keep your children active.  

Concluding thoughts

Thank you for reading with me today.  Please remember to be intentional in raising your happy, healthy children, in part by getting rid of screen time.  Please enter your email address below to subscribe to my blog, which will allow my future posts to come directly to your inbox.  Write to me at dr.pamela@happyhealthychildren.org with any topics you would like to see me cover.  And please share my Gettr account, Facebook page, YouTube videos and Instagram with your friends and family.  My goal is to help parents raise happy, healthy children!

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