Tablets and phones offer a world of entertainment and information many of us didn't have access to as children. This affords them opportunities we never knew—but where is the line?
Too much time spent on phones, tablets and other devices can have lasting effects on children's health. Kids may experience both physical and mental health effects. So how do we protect them without making them fall behind technologically speaking?
Human beings are social creatures, and we need physical interaction to remain socially and emotionally well. We learn how to be people by observing and emulating the actions and behaviors of others. Even how we communicate with one another is dependent on cues we learn by spending time with other people.
According to an article recently published in Cogent Psychology, today's children could be at risk of losing touch with those vital cues. The more time kids spend staring at a screen, the less time they spend studying body language, tone of voice and other nuances that may not translate well through their devices. This may lead to a new form of social atrophy, a whole generation growing up with stunted social skills and a limited ability to communicate effectively with others.
But, of course, it also may lead to a new form of socializing, a new form of cues, and a more adept group of humans who can read one another in ways we haven't yet dreamed of. The thing is that right now, we just don't know.
Physical and Mental Health Effects
Too much time spent staring at devices can have profound physical effects on the body, that we do know. The less we move, the worse off we are. Changes in posture, most commonly the inclination to tilt the neck forward while watching a device, can have serious effects on spinal health. Severe neck and shoulder pain are now common among children, and this pain could coincide with lasting damage, such as spinal disc degeneration.
The types of content children are being exposed to can also affect their mental health. It's easy to forget how sensitive children are to different types of stimuli, but think about the movies or news reports that disturbed you back when you were a kid. Allowing children free access to all that's great about the Internet can also subject them to much of what makes it so dangerous.
Children can also succumb to generalized Internet addiction, which causes compulsive Internet surfing or social media scrolling. People with the disorder tend to put off important tasks to experience more screen time, leading to reduced productivity. This can increase sedentary time and promote poor snacking behaviors, which may also contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic.
Poor Sleep Quality
Digital devices affect children's sleep quality in three ways: It causes them to displace sleep, pushing their bedtime to gain more screen time; news and social media can cause psychological disturbances that affect sleep; and the light emitted by devices can disrupt sleeping patterns. Poor sleep quality can contribute to emotional problems, reduce cognitive functioning and increase risk-taking behaviors in children. It may also worsen obesity and other health problems.
Screen Time Solutions
The most important action concerned parents can take is to limit children's screen access both in time and content. Microsoft, Amazon and Apple each have apps that can help you filter what your kids are able to see and do on any given device. Don't allow phones or tablets in the bedroom at night and put limits on the amount of time your children are allowed to spend on digital media.
The consequences of too much screen time are very real, but children don't have to fall victim. Protect them by being proactive about their device use and watching for behavioral issues that could indicate a problem such as an addiction. And don't forget to lead by example. Try unplugging your own devices, making time for physical activity and staying engaged offline with friends and family as often as possible.
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