Did you know that long exposures to video screens—smartphones, hand-held games, computer monitors, TVs, and tablets—may actually cause changes in kids’ brain structure? The National Institutes of Health recently launched a 10-year, $300 million study with 11,000 children to determine whether screen time affects brain development.1 Data have already revealed that children who devote more than two hours daily to screen time scored lower on thinking and language tests. The study is also examining the possibility of screen time becoming addictive.
Effects of excessive screen time
Many children and adults have already experienced negative side effects of screen time. According to Psychology Today, these effects include:2
- Reduced physical activity
- Disrupted sleep
- Anxiety and irritation when being deprived of screen time
- Increased impulsivity
- Difficulty recognizing non-verbal communications and facial expressions
Reduced physical activity is especially harmful because spending too much time sitting still can lead to obesity, which is a gateway to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. The blue light emitted from screens disrupts natural waking and sleeping rhythms, making it hard to fall asleep at a regular time. To help reduce this effect, most devices feature a “night shift” display mode that softens and darkens the screen in the evening.
Anyone who has tried to wrestle a game or phone away from a hyperfocused child (or grown-up) knows the wrath that can come with it. In addition to creating a power struggle, children who spend countless hours each day engrossed in social media and gaming can fail to learn or understand how to control their impulses, resulting in a stronger need for instant gratification.
What can you do when you look up from your phone at dinner and see that everyone else at the table is also plugged in and distracted? Try these tips to reduce everyone’s attachment to their digital pacifiers:
- No-electronics zones. Make a pact as a family to disconnect during all meals, even when eating alone. Post a “device-free zone” sign in the dining room and other places. This is a great time to practice verbal conversation, eye contact, physical connections, and observation.
- Chargers away. Set up an area in the front of the house where everyone must surrender their devices for charging when they go to bed. And most definitely put the kibosh on screen time for two hours before bedtime.
- Wax on, wax off. Assigning everyone a few weekly housekeeping tasks forces time away from gadgets.
- Let it go. Gather as a family, discuss the apps you have on your devices, and agree to delete some. You can also be bold and agree to delete everyone’s favorite game or social media app for one week.
- Kill the messenger. If getting a device away from a child results in a battle of the wills, be clever (read “sneaky”) and disconnect your Wi-Fi for a few hours each day. (Tip: If you need to stay connected, just change the password temporarily.)
- Get out. Free play time, exercising outside, and playing individual or group sports will not only curb surfing time but also fight weight gain, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. Getting the whole family involved in local sports associations helps everyone stay active.
A final thought: While weeding out apps, be sure to keep the Teladoc app. If you don’t have it, go ahead and download it now: http://teladoc.com/mobile.
The app will come in handy when you’re outside playing soccer or enjoying the greenery, scenery, and sunlight. If springtime allergies flare up or someone in the family ends up with a bump, bruise, bug bite, or bee sting, Teladoc can help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Just use the app to request a visit.
U.S. board-certified Teladoc physicians can diagnose a wide variety of non-emergency conditions, recommend treatment, and—when medically necessary—send a prescription to a pharmacy near you. And the best part is you can stay exactly where you are when you need us, whether you’re at home, in the office, or standing on the sideline of a soccer field.
1CBS News, Big Think
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