In today’s tech-savvy world, screen time is an integral part of the lives of children and teenagers. Yet, it’s crucial to acknowledge that not all screen experiences are the same. In this article, we’ll dive into the upsides and downsides of screen time, all while emphasizing the importance of maintaining a healthy balance. Plus, we’ll offer tailored recommendations for parents and caregivers, to help them navigate this digital terrain effectively.
The Pros and Cons of Screen Time
It should be mentioned that not all screen time is created equal. Certain activities like reading an e-book and playing online games that encourage learning can leave a more positive effect than other less engaging screen time, like watching a whole season of a TV show in one sitting. This means there is screen time that’s actually very positive for kids and teens, while there are other methods that are less so. Here we’ll go over both the pros and cons of screen time.
While many articles will only go over the negatives of screen time (don’t worry we’ll get there too) it would be unfair to dismiss the positives. Research has shown certain benefits to screen time.
- Improved critical thinking skills.
Some video games can provide opportunities to learn. Not all video games do but some end up challenging players with puzzles, riddles, resource management tasks, cooperation and other challenges that lead to critical thinking. And oftentimes, these games don’t even feel like they’re making players learn. This leads to a fun digital experience that puts minds to the test.
- Improved social skills.
Online playdates with pals, video calls, and messaging friends and family can provide a comfortable atmosphere, especially for those who struggle with social skills offline. Kids chatting online while playing a preferred cooperative game like Minecraft for example, can lead to increased social skills that extend past just improved communication skills. Also, role-playing video games include elements of communication and social choices which can also help with social skills even when kids are playing a video game solo.
- Improved reading and communication skills.
TV programs, games, and e-books can all provide an element of learning. When screen time is used purposefully to engage with educational apps, websites, or content – these digital tools can provide valuable learning opportunities. And foster skills such as problem-solving for a variety of subjects, comprehension, and creativity.
As screen time has increased, the need for balance has come to the forefront. While there are positive effects of screen time, we must remember that there are negative effects as well. Balance must be considered to provide kids and teens with the benefits while keeping them from experiencing the negative effects. Here are some of the most common negative effects.
- Exposure to adult content.
Unmonitored screen time can expose children to adult content, including violence, substance abuse, and sexual material, impacting their perceptions and behaviors without proper parental controls.
- Unhealthy weight issues.
Excessive screen time can contribute to unhealthy weight issues in children and teens by promoting a sedentary lifestyle with limited physical activity. Additionally, prolonged screen use may lead to distracted eating habits, such as mindless snacking, potentially resulting in weight gain and related health concerns.
- Declined emotional regulation and mood.
Excessive screen time can lead to declined emotional regulation and mood as it often serves as a form of escapism from emotional issues. When individuals use screens to avoid confronting their emotions, it can hinder the proper processing of feelings, potentially exacerbating emotional challenges and affecting overall mood and mental well-being. This is especially important for kids and teens because at these ages they are still in the process of experiencing big emotions for the first time and need to learn how to regulate themselves.
- Sleep problems.
Excessive screen time can disrupt sleep patterns. This happens because screens expose individuals to the stimulating effects of screens, particularly the blue light emitted by electronic devices. This interference with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and can make it more challenging to fall asleep or stay asleep, ultimately leading to sleep problems and sleep deprivation.
Screen Time Recommendations By Age
The recommendations below are for leisure screen time. Additional screen time that exceeds these recommendations is okay as long as that time is for necessary use like online schooling, homework and work.
Babies Up to 18 Months
Little to None
Babies up to 18 months of age should have very minimal screen time. This can be video calls with loved ones and short enrichment videos on occasion.
Toddlers 18-24 Months
Under 1 Hour
Limiting this time to supervised learning-based programming is key for this highly developmental time. This is when motor skills and the understanding of how the world works develops. Which is why physical toys serve as a great aid over screens.
Children 2-5 Years
Limiting screen time to about 1 hour during the week and up to 3 hours on the weekends gives a good balance to this coming-of-school age group.
Kids & Teens 6-17 Years
Aim for 2 hours or less of screen time during the week. As for the weekends- this is an important age group to develop a strong digital balance. Placing emphasis on creating positive sleep and physical activity habits is critical for lifelong wellness.
Teens & Adults 18+
This age group should be mindful of their habits and focus on physical activity to ensure a positive digital balance. Make time for breaks from screen time and create spaces that are a digital free zone to encourage other hobbies.
For more information and ideas for toys that don’t involve screens, check out our blog “Back to Basics: Toys without Screens“.
In conclusion, the world of screens offers a diverse landscape of opportunities and challenges for our young ones. By understanding the nuanced benefits and drawbacks, we can empower ourselves as parents and caregivers to guide children and teenagers towards a balanced digital life. Remember, it’s not about demonizing screens, but rather about harnessing their potential while safeguarding against their pitfalls. So, let’s continue to navigate this digital journey with care. Keeping in mind that responsible screen time management can truly enrich the lives of our children and ensure a bright and balanced future.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Nemours, Very Well Mind, Very Well Family, Parents