What Research Says about the Impact of Screen Time on Young Children and Adolescents
Dr. Mike Hill
On average, children spend nearly seven hours per day consuming some form of digital media, while adults spend, on average, a staggering 11 hours per day in front of a screen . Think about it for a second, does the thought of leaving your phone at home give you anxiety? Does your “quick look” on social media turn into hours of mindless scrolling? Do you need GPS to drive right around the corner? Digital devices, in and of themselves, are not bad. It is how we use them that makes the difference. Given the immense amount of time we spend on screens, it behooves us to understand the impact of these devices. Here’s a look at what the latest research has to say.
Excessive screen time can negatively impact learning and school performance.
Several recent studies have supported what every conscientious parent already suspected—too much time in front of a digital screen has a negative relationship with school performance . Meaning that, on average, students who spend more time consuming digital media perform worse in school than students who spend more time doing non-screen activities .
For younger children (ages 0-5) these findings can have repercussions that ripple into their teenage years. Younger children consuming more than 2 hours of screen time per day can have delayed language development, an increased likelihood of behavioral problems, and attention struggles, which may negatively impact their performance in school. Adolescents consuming more than 2 hours of screen time per day also experienced lower school performance. Quality of sleep is known to have a direct impact on mental and physical activities . High incidents of sleep disorders and deprivation were reported among adolescents who over consume digital media.
Excessive screen time can negatively impact emotional, psychological, and physical well-being.
The foundation for social-emotional well-being is laid during the first two years of life. Younger children who consume excessive media run the risk of damaging this foundation, which should be properly built through rich person-to-person interaction especially by significant others . Adolescents, who already tend to experience great deals of emotional and hormonal change, are at an increased risk for smart phone addiction, which can have similar effects as substance addictions . Furthermore, high cell phone use among adolescents has even been associated with an increased risk of suicidal behavior among younger teens and an increase in self-reported victimization, social isolation, proactive aggression, and antisocial behavior among middle school students .
While the above results may seem alarming, it is worth noting that these associations were more prevalent among children with very high levels of screen time. Furthermore, negative risks of excessive media consumption were more strongly associated with screen activities that were non-educational, but were passive entertaining activities . Although research gives us definite reasons to be concerned, it equally provides guidelines that can help make the best of these powerful tools we use every day.
- Limit non-productive screen time.
For children aged 0-2 years, researchers recommend no screen time. Children older than 2 years should minimize consumption to no more than 1-2 hours per day (across all devices) with more time allowed for educational activities especially if adult interaction is involved . Consider developing a family media plan and establishing no-tech activities at home .
- Remember quality is key.
Increasing the quality of content students engage with, decreases the risk of negative consequences . Ensure media content is age-appropriate, used for production rather than passive consumption, engaging, meaningful, and social .
- Set a good example.
Research has also demonstrated that the more parents are engaged in their own devices, the more parent-child interactions are diminished in quantity and quality . Several studies have linked parents’ use of screen time to an increase in poor behavior among their children including: frustration, hyperactivity, and tantrums. When parents break poor digital habits, it makes it more feasible to correct their children’s.
In conclusion, it is worth reiterating that screen time is not bad. It is the quality of screen time that makes the difference. Children still need and learn best from human, hands-on interaction. When used correctly, digital devices have potent potential to improve our lives both now and in the future.
Dr. Mike Hill is the Principal of University Preparatory in West Palm Beach, FL. With more than 16 years of experience in various instructional and leadership roles in both public and private sectors of education, he maintains a passion for serving others through professional consultation and education.
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