Is Too Much Screen Time Truly Harmful for Children?  

Children in America are now spending a phenomenal amount of time on smartphones and tablets. Naturally, a lot parents are asking Warwick pediatrics specialists about this. How much “screen time” is too much? And is spending too much time on mobile devices and screens harmful to my child? Those are great questions and there is some important research and recommendations that parents should know about.

Screen Time Saturation is a Problem

The US Department of Health and Human Services has found through surveys that most kids now spend seven hours a day in front of electronic screens — from smart phones to tablets, computers and televisions. That’s 49 hours a week and more than a full-time job. Kids as young as two are now regularly using tablets or smart phones to play educational games for several hours per day.

The problem with this, according to Psychology Today, is that when children are exposed to too much screen time at an early age, it can permanently affect brain development. A lot of parents with good intentions provide their children with mobile devices because they think it will give the children an advantage in developing communication skills, a better attention span, concentration and other skills. But research has shown that the opposite is true.

Permanent Consequences of too Much Screen Time

Learning on smart phones or other mobile devices provides too much stimuli for young children, especially when their brains are developing rapidly between ages one and three. Kids really need to focus on less stimuli in order for their brains to develop neural networks at a normal pace. For example, when a parent reads to a child from a storybook, the child can focus on each element individually: the picture on the page, the words on the page, the parent’s voice and so forth. With a smartphone, the child gets all of this input at once.

Researchers have found that frontal lobe development is permanently altered by too much screen time. That’s the part of the brain that helps a child develop empathy — the ability to comprehend social interactions and visual cues during conversations. At the earliest stage of development, Warwick pediatrics specialists will all tell you that children should be playing in the real world, manipulating real toys and chatting with other children, siblings, parents and teachers — instead of spending so much time in front of screens.

Recommendations for Screen Time

So, should you permanently ban your children from screen time? Not at all. But parents need to limit screen time and be more involved in their children’s media choices. The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled guidelines, recommendations and a calculator that shows how much screen time is acceptable for children at each stage of development. The key, of course, is moderation.

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