Technology is an amazing, necessary, and now unavoidable part of modern living. However, between TV’s, iPad’s, mobile phones, and gaming devices at home, school and in the workplace, too much screen time is a continuous problem for the modern-day family. With the ever-growing variety of media, screen time has become an even more complicated concept. Screen time has been shown to change our brain and influence its development – particularly in children. But what are the short and long term affects, how much time behind the screen is normal, and how do we regulate the amount of screen time children are exposed to?
How screen time affects the brain
Did you know that government guidelines recommend NO screen time for children under two years old? Children’s brains grow and develop with movement, constantly forging new neurological connections in the brain. Too much screen time is considered one of the crucial risk factors that can affect these early developmental processes in children. Studies have shown that children who spend more than two hours per day of screen time score lower on language and thinking tests. Children who had excessive screen time even showed thinning of the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking and reasoning! With one in four children experiencing developmental delays, research is suggesting ever increasing screen time could be a major risk factor.
The effect of screen time on the brain goes far beyond developmental delays. Screen time has been shown to affect the sleep of both children and adults. As the sun sets, our brain releases melatonin, the sleep hormone, to prepare our body for rest. The blue light from screens not only decreases this release, but also increases the hormones responsible for being awake and alert such as cortisol. Furthermore, consuming media that is action packed, such as gaming at night-time, puts our nervous system into ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Our nervous systems cannot ‘rest and digest’ effectively while they are still revved up in ‘fight or flight.’
The effect of being revved up and in ‘fight or flight’ from screen time also has a long-term effect on mood. The number of hours in front of a screen has been correlated with increased behavioural problems, depression and anxiety.
Physical health has been shown to be impacted by increased screen time. Children who spend more time in front of the screen were found to have increased risk of obesity, unhealthy diet, and a decreased quality of life.
Suggested screen time by age group
For children under two, the government recommendation is that they have no screen time at all. Although children will engage with the screen, there is minimal ability to learn through the screen at this age. For children 2-5 years old, no more than one hour per day, and for young people aged 5-17 years old the recommendation is a maximum of two hours per day,
Many Australian children are far exceeding this, with most 4–5-year old’s consuming more than two hours per weekday, and by 12-13 years old spending more than three hours average per weekday, and four hours on weekends. This means that 30% of a child’s waking time is being spent in front of the screen!
Minimising screen time
So how do we minimise the amount of time our children are spent in front of a screen?
- Study’s show that children who engage in physical activities that they enjoy will spend less time in front of screens. Ensuring time for play, taking a walk or bike ride as a family, and enrolling kids in sports and other physical activities designates time away from the screen.
- Creating screen free times and zones in the home, such as during mealtime, is way to ensure time away from the screen.
- Set limits for time per day on the screen
- Turn your phone and Ipads to black and white mode – the colours and brightness of the apps mimic gaming machines and are highly addictive. Black and white will decrease children’s interest. (You can do this through accessibility settings)
- And lastly, model healthy screen time and electronic use. Regulating the time spent on technology in front of children will model healthier electronic behaviours. Try to avoid having the TV on for background noise, and limit the time spent scrolling on your phone.