Top 5 Reasons to Decrease Daily Screen Time
In a previous post, we at Pathfinders were particularly troubled that technology in the classroom increases a student’s daily screen time. Some children can spend up to 7 hours per day looking at a screen. But, what’s so bad about that? In this post, we are going to look at 5 reasons to decrease your family’s daily screen time. We will also share some tips and tricks to accomplish that goal.
1. Children under 3 should NOT use screens.
In the first three years after a child is born, their brain increases in size by 300%. This is the most dramatic growth stage of the brain as the child learns to interact with the world around them. They are developing spatial awareness, visual acuity, movement control, and language skills. The stimulation the real world can provide far surpasses anything that can be found on a screen.
When playing with a toy car, a child can practice gripping it and throwing it, tracking its movement in space and hearing the clatter as it drops to the floor. They can feel the movement of the car as their parent rolls it back to them. They can even taste the plastic and metal parts of the car (with parental supervision, of course).
If they are playing with a car game on a tablet, they feel the screen beneath their finger, sees the car move in two-dimensional space and hears sounds coming from the device’s speakers. This doesn’t develop vision, auditory or motor skills. There is little-to-no enrichment for their developing brain.
2. A screen cannot compare to a real human face.
From language development to social skills, nothing compares to real human connection. As your child acquires language, they are exposed to new words you speak, seeing your facial expressions, hearing your tone of voice. There is no app that can do this as effectively as you. As they age, your child learns the subtleties of body language that are as much communication as speech. This is an incredibly important aspect to communication that has to be observed and practiced offline.
Many screen time activities prevent children from interacting with their peers in ways that promote conflict resolution. If each child has their own tablet, they are working independently of each other. But if your children are building a puzzle or playing a board game, they need to work together to complete the puzzle or finish the game. If a fight ensues, this is a learning opportunity to practice compromise, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
With devices, it’s much easier to rage-quit and stomp away. Just turn the device off and leave. A puzzle needs to be put away, which took an hour to set up in the first place. It’s the same as a board game. It’s not so easy to abandon these activities to avoid frustration or conflict, two things all of us need more practice dealing with.
3. Sleep disturbance.
Screens interfere with sleep. Period. If struggling to fall asleep, it is so easy to pick up your phone and check Instagram® or play a quick game… just until you feel sleepy, right? For our kids, this temptation may be even harder to resist. Instead of winding down our bodies and minds, we are stimulating them, making it even more difficult to fall asleep.
Not only are we spending extra time on our devices rather than sleeping, the light those screens emit negatively impacts our sleep cycle, a.k.a. circadian rhythm. This is the natural rhythm that indicates when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to sleep. This rhythm is guided by natural sunlight, but artificial blue light – like that emitted from our devices and LED lights – can interfere with this rhythm.
All light at night suppresses the body’s secretion of melatonin, a hormone that is critical for a good night’s sleep. Blue light suppresses melatonin even more than other light. So not only are your devices distracting you from sleep, they are actually making it harder for you to fall asleep when you put them down.
4. Instant gratification means trouble with attention.
When our devices are working properly, they allow us to do a variety of tasks near instantaneously. We push a button and we know what a platypus is. We push another button and we are listening to music. We push another button and we’re beating our high score on Candy Crush®. This multi-tasking and instant gratification are exactly what our brains don’t need if we want to be able to focus and stay on task, exactly what is demanded of our students at school.
At school, your child needs to be able to focus their attention on a selected item (the whiteboard), sustain their attention on that item, ignore distractions (a talkative classmate), and restart their attention if a disruption occurs (a message over the loudspeaker).
Our devices are all distraction, all the time. Our eyes jump from one picture to another, one blinking icon to another, one social media post to another. You don’t need to select your attention. You don’t need to sustain your attention. You don’t need to avoid distraction – in fact, notifications make it possible for you to be distracted all the time. Our devices are not allowing our children to practice the patience and attention skills we and their schools ask of them, setting them up for failure.
5. When is too much actually addiction?
When we use our devices, we are stimulating the reward pathways of our brain. We get that release of neurotransmitters like dopamine that tells our brains what we are doing is awesome, it is rewarding, we should do it again and again and again. This is the same brain pathway that leads to addictions.
While Internet or media addiction is not an officially recognized disorder, it is becoming more accepted as more individuals are suffering from it. The symptoms are not cut and dry. The main thing you need to think about with media addiction is: is it interfering with your or your child’s life?
Studies have shown that the brains of those who are addicted to media have been physically altered for the worse. Shrinkage in the frontal lobe has been found, a part of the brain responsible for organization, planning, reasoning, and inhibition. The white matter of the brain loses integrity, making communication between parts of the brain less efficient, delaying processing speed and accuracy. Dopamine released in the brain during video-gaming mimics the release seen with drug addiction.
If this all sounds a bit scary, that’s good. It’s supposed to be extremely concerning at the very least. A lot of research is still being done showing the long-term effects of screen time on the brain. The elevated amount of screen time we and our children use is a fairly new thing, so researchers have not yet unveiled the extent of damage that can be caused by overuse of our devices. Until we absolutely know the consequences of screen time, erring on the side of caution is for the best.
Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours per day of screen time for children over the age of 2. This may be a drastic decrease for your family. Here are a few tips to help your family stay away from those screens:
- No devices (TV, phone, tablet, computer) in the bedroom
- Do this yourself and model good behavior while promoting healthy sleep
- Model using less devices with a “family media plan”
- No devices during meals
- No devices in the 2 hours leading up to bedtime
- Try a family game night
- Explore screen-less hobbies like puzzles, crafting, coloring books, reading, audiobooks, exercise, sports or gardening
- Monitor the media your children are consuming
- Watch their TV shows or movies with them
- Screen their video games of choice before you buy
- Make sure they are using social media responsibly by getting their login information and checking their accounts
Hopefully, this post has made you rethink your family’s screen time and gave you a few tools to help you do so.