Excessive Screen Use and Your Child — Is It Worth It?

Despite numerous warnings that too much time in front of any screen is bad for their child, an acquaintance still allowed their five-year-old son to have a smartphone, with seemingly unfettered and unmonitored access. “It keeps him quiet and entertained,” they said, but after witnessing said son loudly demand his phone so he can play Minecraft — right after their son said he had a huge headache — their conclusion seems doubtful, to say the least.

The thing is though, headaches and irritability aren’t the only side effects of excessive screen time. It’s not just that children experience the same dehydration and fatigue adults do after being engrossed in a game or work. There have been studies that suggest real differences in the development of a child that spends too much time on their phones in comparison to a child who doesn’t. Here’s how:

Shifts in brain connectivity. As a child, I had this crazy theory that having a habit of reading at least a month before an IQ test would lead to greater results and neglecting the practice made it worse. No idea if there was any truth to that, but there is a difference in brain connectivity between a reading child and one on their screens. Screen use causes poorer connectivity and the child fares worse in language and cognitive tests.

Sedentary lifestyle. Older people often reminisce about “the good ‘ole days” before screens when children played outside. The primary difference this causes is that playing with other children not only allows them to be more active, thus reducing the chances of being overweight or obese, but also helps develop their social behavior.

Behavioral problems. Apropos, it’s been said that children who spend more time on TV are more likely to develop emotional, social, and attention problems. There’s no direct link between digital use and ADHD, but it’s been shown that greater exposure tends to lead to the display of ADHD symptoms and even bullying behavior.

Mental health problems. Even more alarming, a study on teens showed that there was a strong linkage between screen time and depression and suicidal tendencies. As a comparison, those with more active lifestyles and social lives had a lower risk.

Sleeping problems. Screens emit this high-energy blue light that’s able to disrupt the circadian rhythm or the sleep/wake cycle which could cause insomnia and other related health conditions. Also, blue light can prove harmful to the sensitive retina of our eyes.

Educational problems. The immediate symptoms that come with too much screen time are headaches, eye strain, and pain around the neck and shoulders among others. This state of irritability and discomfort might affect their performance in school and the ability to focus.

Eye problems. Along with harming the retinas with blue light, it’s been concluded that the increasing rate of children with myopia or nearsightedness is directly linked to their increasing amount of exposure to digital media and screens.

There are other ways to keep a child entertained that won’t possibly affect them in the long run. Reading is one if you encourage the habit, but just investing face-to-face time should be a valuable alternative.