Screen Time: Are We Doing Our Kids A Disservice?

Over the last couple of weeks, the topic of kids and screen time has come up in multiple conversations with various people. On top of that, some of society’s problems we’re seeing are being blamed on screen time. This made me curious to dig into seeing how screen time is affecting our kids. Are we doing them a disservice by allowing them to have so much screen time?

The first article I came across was from a 2014 NPR article. One of the first things mentioned in this article was that kids are spending more time in front of screens than ever. Because of that, it appears to be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions. This comes out of research from UCLA. Kids need to be able to recognize emotions so that they can grow up to be healthy and whole human beings. As humans, we need to be able to recognize emotions so that we can have relationships with each other. It is not good for us to be alone all the time. God created us to be relational people. He wanted us to be in relationship with him and with each other. How can our kids be relational if they can’t recognize emotions in others or even in themselves?

The article goes on to suggest that there are a number of negative side effects from so much screen time. As much as I would like to go in depth on each of these, I cannot. Please click on the links and read the research. Some of the negative side effects are:

  • Childhood Obesity
  • Irregular Sleep Patterns
  • Social Issues
  • Behavioral Issues

Childhood Obesity

To me, this is a common sense equation: too much screen time + eating snacks in front of screen – exercise = childhood obesity. Kids are eating snacks, healthy and unhealthy ones, in front of the tv, tablet, iPad, phone, computer, etc. In addition to that, the more time they are spending in front of a screen is less time that they are spending playing and being a kid – running around outside, riding bikes, playing sports.

I grew up in the 80’s & 90’s before we had things like laptops and cell phones. My parents didn’t even get a desktop computer until after I went away to college. I remember having computer typing classes in middle school and the screensavers were flying toasters. Without the access to screen time like that, we were playing outside as much as possible. Snow days were spent sledding until we couldn’t feel our noses and then warming up with board games & hot chocolate before going outside again. We played little league and rode our bikes. We made forts in the woods. I sometimes wish for days when I didn’t have a cell phone or computer.

There is research to show the correlation between screen time and childhood obesity. When is the last time you went for a walk or bike ride with your kiddos outdoors? I challenge you to find time to unplug as a family. Do something outdoors, something active.

Irregular Sleep Patterns

My husband has mentioned to me several times that using my cell phone close to bed time might be the cause of some of my sleepless nights. I also know that when he isn’t here, I don’t sleep well. I try to “soothe” myself by binging on Netflix. My sleep pattern gets seriously messed up. Even if I get tired, I’m hooked on a show and don’t want to stop it.

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has some statistics that they’ve published. Screen time has been linked to irregular sleep patterns for children under the age of 3 years old. How many use a TV, phone, or tablet to play music to help kids go to sleep? Kids ages 6-12 have sleep disturbances because of screen time.

We need to rest – God wants us to rest on a regular basis. Sleep is essential to our health and is really important in the health of our kids. Diminishing screen time can help with that.

Social and Behavioral Issues

How often, while out in public, do you see kids acting up (or acting out) and to soothe them, a screen is shoved in front of them? All too often. Last year, I went to dinner with some friends. As we were being seated, we walked past a table of teenagers. None of them were talking to each other. Instead, they were all looking down at their phones. I try to make a practice of keeping my phone in my purse when I am having a meal with someone or doing something to be relational. If I’m going out to dinner with a friend, I want to be in conversation with that person. I want to know about them – not just what is posted on social media – but I want to truly get to know them. This is part of being relational. As I stated earlier, God created us to be relational. We need to have actual conversations with each other instead of messaging or chatting.

There have been countless news reports that talk about how we are more connected than ever because of technology and social media, yet we have kids who are more depressed than ever. There is a correlation between that and the amount of time they spend in front of a screen/social media. There has been research to show how spending long periods of time in front of a screen can have a negative effect on a child’s psychological health. The PEACH (Personal and Environmental Associations with Children’s Health) Project has done research about this, which has been published by the American Association of Pediatrics.

I have a lot to say on this topic, but will save it for a few follow up posts. I just want to point out that kids today are more medicated than ever before. Kids today are constantly being diagnosed with conditions like ADD, ADHD, ODD, etc. My question is this: how many of those kids are spending more than 2 hours/day in front of a screen?

There are numerous articles about how screen time is affecting kids both behaviorally and socially. It’s all part of the psychological make up of kids. They aren’t really getting to be kids because of the amount of screen time they are getting. Psychology Today published an article about what screen time is doing to kids’ brains.

I urge you to read the research. Common Sense Media published a lengthy document in regards to kids and screen time. I challenge you to participate in this year’s Screen-Free Week that is presented by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. I’m not saying you can’t do your job or your child can’t do their homework, but aside from those essentials, take a week to unplug. Spend time together. Talk together, as a family, and really get to know each other. Be relational. Come up with a healthy media diet for your family – how much is too much screen time? If we keep shoving screens in front of our kids, are we doing them a disservice? I think so.


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