In today’s world, devices with screens on them are a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. Most of the things we do require us using a device with a screen on it. Kids, being kids, are drawn to shiny and interesting-looking gadgets like iPads, smartphones and TVs and once they develop a habit of using these devices, it is almost impossible for them to abstain from using them. But excessive use of such gadgets has many ill-effects on kids’ health and psychology. Here are three of the main ones-
1. Screen Time and Obesity– Multiple studies have found that kids who have more screen time have higher rates of obesity. This is because watching television, for example, delivers a one-two punch of long periods of inactivity coupled with advertisements for foods that contribute to obesity, such as soda, ice cream and fast food. For example, one 12 oz (355 ml) can of Coca-Cola contains just over 9 teaspoons of sugar. In the USA, obesity has more than doubled among children and quadrupled among adolescents in the last 30 years.Obesity leads to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, joint problems and heart disease. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in most countries and too much screen time is the biggest contributing factor to the epidemic.
2. Screen Time and Sleep– Many studies have suggested that night-time use of screen-based gadgets has a negative effect on children’s sleep. Indeed, things are getting worse as screens get smaller and more portable. Kids who sleep with electronic devices in the their bedroom get less sleep than those who leave the devices in another room of the home at night. Not only are the children playing games and texting when they should be asleep, but the blue light emitted from the devices hinders sleep even after the device is shut off. All electronics, including cell phones, tablets, iPads and TVs, emit a blue light from the screen. The body interprets that blue light as daylight and the brain sends out the signal to wake up. Instead of being sleepy at bedtime, the child is now wide awake even when the electronic screen is shut off.
3. Screen Time and Social Skills– Kids who spend too much time with electronics lack in normal social skills that are needed to help them develop into a well-rounded adult. Kids spend too much interacting with an electronic device and have limited face time with people. By not developing the ability to interact with others face-to-face, future adult relationships for the child will be impeded. Also, lack of frequent face-to-face interaction, in favor of Facebook and other simulated emotional connections, may actually impact kids’ ability to process emotion properly.
Now we come to the question of what parents can do to protect their kids from this. The answer does not lie in total abstinence from screen-based gadgets. That would be impractical and quite impossible. It is not necessary to ban technology, but just to ensure that children don’t spend their entire days with televisions, computers, video games, and smartphones. Nowadays, both parents and kids are under a lot of pressure- from work and school respectively. Watching TV or playing video games is a hassle-free and entertaining way to spend their free time for both parents and kids. But efforts have to be made to explore other, more constructive and less destructive, ways to spend our free time, especially where children are concerned.
Disclaimer: Photo by Nial Bradshaw licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)