The Threat of Technology: Why is Screen Time Harmful to Children?

We’ve all been there- trying to run some errands, everything is (somewhat) smooth sailing, and then it happens… The toddler tantrum. What is there to do in the middle of a Target besides hand your kid your phone in hopes of them *not* screaming? At Sleep Shore, we get it. Handing your little one a tablet or a phone is often the fastest way to stop a tantrum. But what are the implications of that? Today, we’re diving into the topic of technology and answering the question: why is screen time harmful to children? 

why is screen time harmful to children

Why is Screen Time Harmful to Children? 

why is screen time harmful to children- babies and toddlers

In the age of technology, screens have created a new responsibility for parents and caregivers: how much screen time is too much? Screen time has become more and more integrated into every aspect of our daily life. So naturally, it feels easy to hand a screen to our little ones during downtime. However, there are several ways that screen time can impact development, both physical and mental. 

While screens can be educational (and convenient), there’s a mass of research that suggests screens may be doing more harm than good. As new research emerges on the effects of screen time (on both children and adults), it’s important to understand the impact of technology on the growing generations. Let’s dive into the observed effects of technology on babies and children. 

Impact of Technology on Physical Development 

Impact of technology on brain development

One of the things that screen time has been reported to impact is SLEEP. Sleep goes hand in hand with your baby’s physical and brain development. Kids who have unhealthy levels of screen time are more likely to struggle with sleep issues

The blue light from screens disrupts the natural production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and messes with their circadian sleep rhythm. This leads to difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, and prohibits healthy sleep habits. 

The NIH reports that higher screen time is linked to not only sleep issues, but also health concerns such as obesity, depression, and anxiety. Screen time typically lends itself to sedentary activities. Your child will naturally have higher self-esteem and feel better getting more physical activity rather than sitting with a screen, watching TV, or playing video games. 

Impact of Technology on Mental Development 

Impact of technology on physical development

Screen times are closely linked to impacted brain development. The National Institutes of Health reported that children with over two hours a day of screen time scored lower on thinking and language tests than their counterparts with less screen time. 

This same study observed that some children with over seven hours a day of screen time showed thinning of the brain’s cerebral cortex- the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking skills and reasoning. (Seven hours a day may sound like a lot of screen time, however, that aligns with typical usage. The average American uses screens for seven hours each day.) 

In this fascinating study conducted by the Boston Children’s Hospital, screen time seemingly impacted baby brain activity. There were tangible differences recorded in the brain activity of babies who used screens often versus babies who had limited screen time. Children who had higher screen times at 12 months of age had stronger theta (slower-frequency) brain waves than beta (high-frequency) brain waves. These effects were observed again at 9 years of age, and the data confirmed that high screen time showed continued developmental impacts on their brains. 

Studies show that screen time in young children is linked to reduced psychological well-being. In a study on the impacts of TV exposure between 6 and 18 months, it was reported that children with high screen times were associated with aggression, externalizing behaviors, and emotional reactivity. The NIH reported that excessive screen time is also believed to contribute to the development of ADHD in children

Ways to Reduce Screen Time for Your Child

screen free ideas to try

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry outlines their recommendation for screen use in babies and children:

  • Babies younger than 18 months: No screen time besides video chatting or Facetime with an adult 
  • Infants and toddlers between 18-24 months: Screen time consisting of only educational programming accompanied by a caregiver 
  • Children ages 2-5: 1 hour of non-educational screen time on weekdays and 3 hours on the weekends
  • Older children ages 6 and up: Continued monitoring of limited screen time and encouraging activities that don’t include screens 
  • Screens should be shut off at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime for optimal sleep 

While these guidelines may seem extreme to some and completely normal to others, it’s important to remember that every family is different and not to be too hard on yourself. However, understanding the impacts of technology on your child’s emotional, social, and physical well-being is crucial. Screen time is harmful to children when used in excess. There are many activities to engage your little ones in that don’t include a screen. Here are some fun screen-free ideas to try with your kids!  

Screen-Free Activities to Try with Your Little One

  • Reading books 
  • Pretend play
  • Coloring or painting 
  • Puzzles
  • Playdough 
  • Building blocks 
  • Listening to music or having a dance party 
  • Outside sports like playing catch, running, jump roping, or hopscotch 
  • Indoor physical activities like yoga and stretching (this also makes for a great bedtime activity to help them wind down!) 
  • Board games 
  • Arts and crafts 

The options are endless! While it may feel difficult to drastically reduce screen times for your child, science confirms that it will greatly benefit them in the long run. You can help your child discover all of the screen-free fun there is to be had aside from electronic devices. 

Physical and emotional development is crucial as your child is growing, learning, and absorbing the world around them. If you feel that it’s impossible to reduce their screen time, take baby steps and challenge yourself to decrease the screen time little by little. There are so many opportunities to bond with your little one when a screen isn’t involved! 

Sleep Shore Sleep Consulting 

Have you noticed that your little one hasn’t been sleeping well lately (or ever)? Sleep Shore is here to help! We offer one-on-one sleep services to cure your exhaustion. Whether you have a newborn, infant, or toddler, our job is to get better sleep for the whole family. See what this mama had to say about our sleep services: 

“My son was an ok sleeper to begin with, but we were really struggling with being able to lay him down for naps/bedtime and multiple wakings at night. Molly really got to know our son and our specific situation so she could suggest the right plan for us. She was in constant communication so we could make tweaks along the way. She made my husband and I feel at ease with sleep training and helped us feel confident in our plan. Molly is extremely knowledgeable, but also realistic about expectations. At the end of our week with Molly, our son puts himself to sleep for all naps and bedtime, and sleeps 12 hours at night. I can not recommend Molly enough, it was SO worth it!”

-GRATEFUL MAMA

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