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In our digital age, many children are growing up surrounded by screens—smartphones, tablets, computers, video games, and TVs have become integral parts of their daily lives. We use them so much and depend on them to carry out modern life to such an extent that we can forget that they are not just tools for our use but can have a more broad-reaching impact, especially on children. 

It takes just a moment’s reflection to realize that, up until 100 years ago, most people never saw or heard things not detected directly by their own eyes and ears. Now, not only can events around the world come crashing into our experiences through a screen, but many things that do not even exist can come into our experience: flying superheroes, horrid monsters, talking bears, unfathomably beautiful people, and friendly lions. Have you considered whether your young children can absorb these things and properly process the images they see?

While screen media can offer educational benefits, our excessive reliance on and use of these devices impacts children’s cognitive, linguistic, and social-emotional growth. At Northwest Pediatrics, a clinic of Northwest Specialty Hospital healthcare, we recognize that many parents may be justifiably worried about the impact too much screen time can have on the well-being of their children. 


Cognitive Consequences of Too Much Screen Time

The cognitive impact of screen time on children is a complex interplay between beneficial and detrimental effects. Screens can enhance education and learning, providing interactive platforms that engage young minds. However, this accounts for a small percentage of what is available for viewing and likely an even smaller percentage of what is viewed. The fact is, most screen time can best be classified as “entertainment” – and not always healthy entertainment, at that. Parents should be mindful of how much time their children spend in front of screens and what they watch on those screens.


Here are some of the ways that excessive screen time and unhealthy media can affect a child’s physical and mental well-being:

Language Development and Interpersonal Skills

As children spend more time interacting with screens and less engaging in face-to-face communication, the quality and quantity of interactions with caregivers diminishes. This reduced verbal and non-verbal communication can hinder language acquisition, impacting the development of crucial interpersonal skills. When children do not interact meaningfully with others, where facial expressions and the tone of verbal responses provide critical indications of feelings and reactions, they do not learn critical skills that enable them to interact well with others.


Social and Emotional Growth at Stake

Excessive screen usage has far-reaching effects on children’s social and emotional growth. Studies have shown a correlation between prolonged screen time and an increased likelihood of obesity, irregular sleep patterns, and mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. Furthermore, a child’s ability to interpret the emotions of others accurately can be impaired, and exposure to violent content can desensitize children, normalizing aggressive behavior as a solution to problems or associating violence with positive feelings.


Physical and Behavioral Problems

When children are sedentary and passively looking at a screen rather than physically active, they are more likely to become overweight and experience sleep disorders, and the reasons are pretty straightforward.

Children sitting and watching a screen will often eat. When children eat in this distracted way, they generally do not pay attention to what or how much they eat and learn to associate the positive inputs of entertainment and hunger satiation with one another, conditioning them to “feel good” when behaving in a physically unhealthy way. Further, failing to burn calories through healthy exercise and sitting in front of a screen can disturb their ability to get good sleep, particularly if they have observed visually disturbing content.

Further, children who do not learn to interact with real people often exhibit behavioral issues when in the presence of others, particularly schoolmates and teachers. They can have trouble making friends when they never learn how to recognize or assimilate visual cues that occur with repeated and consistent direct interpersonal contact with real people. Unlike characters on screen, people, whether classmates or teachers, are not passive. When children are socially stunted, they are more likely to exhibit behavioral issues. They are also less likely to be able to perform well academically.


Protecting Your Children: Strategies for Parents

Parents should pay close attention to how much time their children spend passively viewing a screen, whether watching television and movies or playing video games. To protect children from the harmful effects of too much passive screen time, here are some simple steps:

  • Set Clear Boundaries: Establish limits on daily screen time and ensure that electronic devices are not present in bedrooms, especially at bedtime.
  • Utilize Parental Controls: Most devices now have parental control features to restrict access to inappropriate content and effectively manage screen time.
  • Model Healthy Screen Behavior: Children often emulate their parents’ behavior. Demonstrate a balanced approach to screen usage by prioritizing face-to-face interactions and engaging in alternative activities.
  • Encourage Alternatives: Promote alternative activities that stimulate development, particularly outdoor play and exercise, creative pursuits that involve working with their hands and other senses, and interpersonal play. 


Seeking Guidance from Northwest Pediatrics

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s screen habits or any other health issues, contact the pediatric care specialists at Northwest Pediatrics. We understand the challenges parents face in navigating the digital landscape and are committed to providing guidance that supports your child’s optimal health and development

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