With significant advancements in technology and gadgets over the past five years has come a dramatic increase in use of devices for not only adults, but children. On average, children are engaging with display screens (TVs and electronic devices) approximately 7.5 hours each day. This increase in "screen time" has been shown to impact children in most, if not all, areas of development. Changes have been observed in studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics in the way a child plays and socializes, their attention and learning, as well as significant delays in critical stages of development. Development in the five following areas are impacted by this increase in screen time by children.
Play and socialization
- Imaginary, exploratory and constructional play are decreasing, causing less opportunity to develop problem-solving skills.
- When in a play situation, some children have difficulty socializing with others and are demonstrating more passive interactions (which is watching interactions but rarely engaging in or initiating them).
Speech and conversation
- Due to increases in screen time, children are engaging less in verbal conversation with peers and adults.
- Decreases in verbal conversation may lead to significant speech delays.
Body and mind strength
Children are participating less in outdoor play, or exploring, running and climbing. This lack of outdoor play affects their ability to:
- Develop core and muscular strength.
- Balance and build coordination needed for advanced motor skills.
- Receive the natural sensory input needed to regulate their bodies. Without this sensory experience, they may exhibit constant movement, using extra force or aggressive behaviors, bumping and crashing frequently, frequently touch objects and people, speak loudly and make noises. These issues can then lead to problems with self-care skills, behaviors, attention and academic learning.
Focus and mindfulnessWith so many distractions caused by technology, children are showing a decreased ability to focus on one task.
- A focus on screens and gaming is developing hyperactivity in an increasing number of children.
- Continuous attention to screens is actually due to frequent, intermittent rewards (from games and other applications).
- Frequent rewards through screen time–such as higher levels or achievements in games or apps with levels–can lead to difficulty focusing on challenging situations, or school-based work, where there aren't frequent rewards.
The increased use of technology has shown an increase in disruption to our body's natural circadian rhythym, impacting sleep time, sleep quality and daytime alertness.
Putting it all together
To counterbalance the time children and teenagers are spending with screen time, it is recommended that they increase their physical activity.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 60 minutes, or more, of physical activity each day.
- Most of that 60 minutes should be at a moderate to vigorous level, i.e., running, jumping, biking, etc.
- It has been shown, in many research studies, that physical exercise and outdoor play increase cognitive function and allow children to improve their attentional inhibition skills, which is the ability to block out irrelevant information and improve concentration.
Encourage your children to get outside or get involved in a recreational activity. Provide them opportunities to engage with adults and children their own age whenever possible, it will make a difference in our youth's development. Speak with your family health care provider or pediatrician if you have questions or concerns about your child's behavior and screen time.