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Screen Time: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly!

It’s no secret that we live in an era of screens.  Never in history has there been a time where screens were so accessible.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), the average 8–10-year-old spends 6 hours a day in front of a screen.  That number increases for those aged 11-14 to a whopping 9 hours per day.  This data can often leave parents in shock and begs the question; What exactly is this time staring at screens doing to our children? And should I be concerned?  Let’s look at the data a little further to learn a bit more about the effects of screen time.

The Good:  

Did you know that there are two ways to consume media from a screen? Psychologists have divided the way we consume media into two categories: active and passive. Active screen time is when we are learning, bending our minds, doing something creative or video chatting another person.  Passive screen time is when individuals are scrolling absently without tuning into what is being watched.  Active screen time with our children can look like dancing along to a song, playing a game together, or watching an educational video.  Research has shown that engaging actively with our children while they are consuming media from a screen can have more positive outcomes than allowing them to passively consume media.  Enjoying screens together can help them understand what they’re seeing.  As parents or caregivers, we can comment on things we notice, ask questions about what is happening, and repeat concepts to help children recall information they learned. There are so many perks to active screen time!

The Bad: 

For children under 3 years of age​, development is happening at a rapid rate.  The best way to foster neural connections during this time is through natural exploration of their environment as well as imitation of peers and adults.  Excessive screen time can impede children’s natural inclination to explore, leading to “tunnel vision” of sorts.  Early research from the National Institute of Health (2018) states that children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, an area related to critical thinking and reasoning.  However, researchers have yet to truly interpret the long-term effects of these results.  Lastly, use of screens in the evening can impact production of Melatonin (the sleep hormone)​, as the blue light held closely to the face can trick the brain into thinking the sun has not set yet.  Lack of sleep can lead to difficulty forming long term memories, a ​decrease in attention, and an increase in irritability.

The Ugly: 

The ugly truth is that screens aren’t going anywhere! And that’s totally fine! But it’s important to make educated choices on what’s best for your family when it comes to screen time.  Here are a few resources that can help you and your family choose how and when you consume media:

– Carrie Brangers, MS, OTR/L