It’s probably impossible to find many kids and teens who don’t spend part, or most of their day engaging with some sort of screen. While some of this is required by schools, most is recreational. Your kids probably love watching tv, playing video or online games and texting friends. Can it really hurt them or is that just hype? And if it is potentially harmful, how much screen time is too much?
For this post, I dove into some research to see if there was any actual scientific data to back up the dire warnings shared in parenting circles. First, it’s important to set parameters on screen time. Doctors suggest no screen time for kids two years old and under. Two to four year olds should have no more than one hour daily and kids five years old and older, no more than two hours of screen time daily.
It is important to note that for doctors and researchers tv, computer, phone, game console and other screens are included in this total. (I could not find a study that addresses how any required academic screen time factored into the totals.) One study found that 63% of young people exceed those limits, but my guess is the actual number is much higher.
So what impact does screen time above the suggested daily amounts have on your kids? Here’s what researchers found.
- Attention problems. A well known study years ago found shows like Sesame Street with its quick cuts from scene to scene were having a negative impact on attention spans. Those quick action, quick cuts are pervasive now. It makes one wonder if there would be fewer children with ADD if screen time were severely limited.
- Health issues. Studies found young people who spent too much time on screens generally had poorer eating, exercise and sleep habits. This in turn led to higher over all body mass and incidents of obesity.
- Depressive symptoms. While the data on anxiety levels is mixed, there is agreement that excessive screen time correlates to depressive symptoms.
- Increased suicide risk. For girls, a high level of social media and television use followed by an increase in the amount of time spent on screens was highly predictive of suicide risk in young adulthood. Entertainment app use appeared to be associated with the highest risk. For boys, reading apps (the study didn’t specify which) and/or higher percentage above the norm spent video game playing especially when coupled with cyber bullying indicated a high risk of suicide attempts in young adulthood.
- Lower cognitive skills and academic performance. How screen time impacts cognitive skills varies a bit by age, but it’s all negative. In younger children, too much screen time causes various developmental delays. In kids and particularly teens, as screen time increased, academic performance decreased.
- Higher impulsivity and/or reduced self control. The more time kids spend on screens, the more likely they are to be impulsive. Since impulsive decisions are often poor ones, this particular study is quite troubling.
- Spiritual growth delays. I’ll admit, I couldn’t find a study that has been done on this, but it only makes sense. Spiritual growth is partially dependent upon time spent learning what is in the Bible, trying to understand it and figuring out ways to apply it to our lives. It requires Bible study, prayer, worship, classes, conversations, reflection and more. There isn’t much time for any of these things if your kids are constantly spending all of their free time on screens.
While it can be debated on some of these whether it is causation or correlation, one additional parenting factor is in the mix. If your kids are showing depressive symptoms, it may be caused by the screen time or they may be spending more time on their screens because they are depressed. If they are spending too much time on their screens though, they aren’t interacting with you very much and you may miss noticing any signs of depression. Your kids need time with you, interacting in meaningful ways with no screen distractions.
Additionally experts suggest at least an hour of exercise, 8-10 hours of sleep and no more than the recommended amount of screen time each day, for your kids to grow to their potential. I would add daily spiritual time for them to reach their godly potential. If your kids are exceeding the suggested limits on screen time, it’s time for some limits. It may be painful at first, but it’s worth it.