From smartphones and social media to TV and tablet-based toys, today’s kids are constantly inundated by technology. While it’s important for children and teens to develop an aptitude for technology, after all, they will use computers their whole lives, too much technology use can have detrimental health and physical effects. The negative effects on children’s health run the gamut from increased risk of obesity to loss of social skills and behavioral problems. Of course, this doesn’t mean parents need to ban technology entirely, but it’s important for parents to be aware of the potential effects of technology on children and develop strategies to limit their children’s screen time.
How Technology Affects Children
Technology is everywhere, and while we cannot and should not ban technology entirely, we can set limits for our children to offset some of the negative effects. Too much screen time can affect your child’s physical health as well as their behavior. Learn more about the physical and mental effects of too much of a good thing (read: technology) and discover what you can do to help your child.
Childhood Obesity and Technology
With children spending more time typing or tapping on a screen, they’re naturally spending less time outside or engaged in physical activities. Research has also found that children and adolescents may engage in more mindless eating while watching TV or playing video games. As a result, we’re seeing increased obesity rates in children and adolescents.
While children will naturally be interested in watching various programs, playing video games, and using app-based technology, it’s vital for parents to make sure children are spending time outside and getting enough physical activity. Encourage your kids to play outside. If time permits, join your kids in outdoor play. You can play games, like hide-and-seek or tag, or grab a mitt and a ball and play catch, or throw a frisbee around at a park. Think about going camping, your kids will enjoy the extra time they get to spend with you, and the exercise and outdoor time will help them burn off energy and sleep better.
Negative Effects of Technology on Children’s Social Development
Technology has completely changed the way we interact with each other. Even as adults, we are more prone to send a text vs. make a phone call. Similarly, we often behave differently on social media than we would in person. These differences aren’t exclusive to adults. When kids spend a significant amount of time on social media, it can lead to lower self-esteem. Teens are seeing curated content, a digital highlight reel, which can lead to distress due to teens comparing themselves to their peers. In general, technology use can cause social and behavioral problems in children because it minimizes the amount of time kids spend interacting with others.
Make sure to monitor your child’s social media use and be aware of the types of websites they’re visiting and the games they’re playing online. Set up parental controls on computers, smartphones, and tablets to block inappropriate websites and apps. Also, try to keep the computer, game console, or TV in a common room so you can supervise your child’s technology use.
In addition to monitoring your child’s screen time, it’s also important to make sure they engage in social activities. Schedule playdates with friends and encourage your child to interact with others. Another great way to limit screen time and encourage physical activity and social interaction is to enroll your kids in a sports league. This way, they will have organized practices and games that will allow them to not only exercise but be social with other kids their age.
Technology and Attention Span
Gone are the days where we have to rewind a VHS cassette tape to watch a movie or listen to the radio all day to hear our favorite song. With the Internet and YouTube, you can watch a show or listen to a song almost instantly, and you can even skip through the commercials. As a result, kids today are wired for instant gratification; they want what they want, and they want it now.
Electronics, like smartphones and tablets, make it harder for people to concentrate and easier for people to be distracted by constant sounds and notifications. According to a research study in Canada, since technology use increased (around the year 2000) the average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to eight seconds.
It’s challenging enough to teach kids patience, but how can we combat the negative effects of this always-on culture? One way is to limit technology use while children are focused on other tasks. Prohibit smartphone use while working on homework, encourage conversation and interaction during dinner time, turn the TV off while children are reading. Encourage your kids to take time to unplug and disconnect. Get outside, interact with others, and engage in activities that don’t involve screens, like board games, books, and puzzles.
Managing Screen Time: How Much is Too Much?
Do you know how much time your kids spend per day on their devices? According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), teenagers spend up to nine hours per day watching or using screens, and children ages eight to 12, spend four to six hours a day using screens. While some electronic use is vital for schoolwork, especially with distance learning, parents should try to limit screen time, be aware of the websites their kids are visiting, and make sure kids are spending their time watching high-quality educational content.
Mayo Clinic recommends limiting screen time to one hour per day for children between the ages of two and five. While there aren’t specific hour guidelines for every age group, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents of kids between five and 18 place consistent limits on technology use.
Work With Your Child to Manage Technology Use
Without hard-fast rules, it’s important to assess how much screen time you’re comfortable with, and which activities you allow your child to engage in. Many of our National University students are parents, and when you’re managing work, college courses, and parenting, some technology use outside of schoolwork is definitely necessary. If your kids are getting more screen time than normal because they’re home from school and you’re working and taking care of them, that’s OK, just try to monitor what they’re doing and that it’s not interfering with their schoolwork, health, or behavior. Your kids will grow up surrounded by screens and technology. If you establish good habits early on, you can offset the negative effects of technology on children. Remember, not all technology is bad, learn more about how technology can help children learn and develop.