Is screen time stunting our kid’s development?

Considering my previous blog posts on the effects that smartphones and social media are having on our lives, I was intrigued by the news item today about a study, published in Psychiatric Quarterly, which is claiming that up to 6 hours of screen time a day really isn’t that bad for teenagers. This is quite the departure from previous studies on the subject, which linked excessive screen time to decreased brain development in kids. It also runs contrary to my own personal observations.

Overstimulation

Have you noticed that you have trouble just focusing completely on one thing? I think a lot of people have this issue. We watch TV, but we also scroll through our phone. We sit down for coffee with friends, but are half distracted by the latest story trending on twitter. As published in Psychology today, this is one of the major issues of allowing children to play with tablets and smart phones at a young age. Unlike listening to a teacher or parent read a story, where there is only one focus, the voice, and it is necessary for the child to use their imagination, screens allow multiple different stimuli, touch, sound and picture. This is impeding the development of concentration skills and the ability to focus! If this can affect adults who didn’t grow up with this technology so fundamentally then imagine what it is doing to our children!

Decreased Empathy and Social Skills

If we have our attention focused on our phones rather than our peers we are missing out on social cues and our ability to recognize and react to other emotions. As reported by the National Post, neurotherapist Mari Swingle has observed decreased levels of attachment between parents and children, as the child is focused on a screen rather than observing and responding to their parent’s verbal and physical behaviours. Children learn how to interact with others through their relationship with their parents. How this can happen when screens are increasingly being used as a surrogate parent?

Instant Gratification

How long are you willing to wait for a response? A few minutes, and hour, a day. Most likely a few minutes to an hour is the response of most people. As this Boston Globe article reports, we are becoming increasingly impatient, because smartphones have made everything almost instant! We can reach our friends, book appointments, answer all our questions all with the tap of a finger. When a child is using a smartphone they are learning this behaviour, with a touch there is an instant response from their game or app. This may seem great on the surface, increasing engagement and productivity, but it has destroyed our ability to be patient. A skill that is needed to succeed in school, to save money to grow a career. How is the next generation supposed to succeed when this crucial skill is underdeveloped?

I think there is little doubt that screen time has a significant effect on child development. This new study concerns me, as it focused specifically on screen time and its effect on levels of depression and delinquency, but what about quality of life and social skills? Were these taken into account? I think it is dangerous for one study to make such sweeping claims in contradiction of so many previous investigations in to this matter.

Do you think smartphones are a useful parenting aid, or are we becoming too reliant on these devices to entertain our children?

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8 thoughts on “Is screen time stunting our kid’s development?

  1. I totally think screen time is stunting childhood development. When I was a nanny during university, I had to constantly fight with the kids about using iPads/TV/or any other technology before and after school. It was a never ending battle of “I want to play this game” or “Can we watch this on Netflix.” It also really sucks because now I feel like we have this way to hold technology over their heads and use it like a bartering system. It honestly makes me so sad.

  2. This was a really interesting post! I think the latest study is too sweeping a generalization to think it’s okay for all kids of any age to have six hours of screen time per day. But at the same time, the studies that show it’s bad also need to be taken with a grain of salt. I think child development probably is changing but it’s not all good or all bad and we probably won’t know exactly how it’s changing for quite a few years.

    I also wonder if they’ll ever find certain screen types are worse than others. For example, television versus a smartphone. You can still watch TV in a group and have discussions which to me, gives TV a chance at being more social whereas it is basically impossible to talk to anyone who is looking at a smartphone/tablet screen – and that goes for any age. It will be especially interesting since TV screen time was such a hot topic of debate when I was a kid.

    I’m definitely left with more questions than answers at the end of this! I do think screens are useful and are necessary for the future but as with anything, moderation is key.

  3. Screen time is an inescapable reality of modern childhood, it’s not always a bad thing however, as Maureen previously mentioned “moderation is key.” Apps and TV shows are great ways for children to sharpen their developing brains, but spending long hours in front of electronic media has its consequences. There’s less time spent with parents, communicating with friends and not enough getting required incentives from the real world. Unlike a parent who reads a story that helps the child visualize complete pictures and exert a mental effort to follow a story line, tablets and such devices do the thinking for them thus, their own cognitive muscles remain weak. If technology is preparing children for the ‘real world’, too much of it is invading their childhood.

  4. i think it is stunting kids development. Pretty much any where you go now you see kids whining and complaining when parents take their phones out of their childrens hands and wont stop until the phone is returned. It is getting more and more rare to see kids playing outside and enjoying life with their real life friends without technology. They are going to start lacking proper communication skills and will become so depended on their phones once they are gone they wont know what to do.

  5. I too think that screen time is affecting children’s development. Sure they come in handy when you just need a little time to get something done (I have done this) but when I was growing up we had to deal with boredom and learn to amuse ourselves. What I usually did was go outside and find someone to play with. Nowadays kids need constant stimulation to keep them going. I feel they are too absorbed with the screen in front of them that they are not building good social skills. I have seen groups of kids hanging out and everyone is on their phone probably talking to one another via their phones. I recently had lunch with some older ladies and I told my kids how nice it was because nobody was on their phones.

    Andrea

  6. Good afternoon…
    I believe that children in today’s lifestyle with a possibility of both parents working or maybe a single parent working at trying to bring their child up well with social skills is a great challenge.
    How many people pop in a movie or just turn on the “kids” channel to entertain the child and keep them quiet? I have personally seen this and feel that the child is losing out on life.

    At our cottage we have a TV with no cable but a DVD player and on a Friday night when we arrive late after work we may pop in a movie we have not seen in a while and of course popcorn. Our entertainment could be playing cards or a board game with friends for the weekend along with a few laughs. How many times have we heard from the kids “were’re bored there is nothing to do”. When I was a child we made our own fun and usually played till we got instruction from our parents “it’s almost dark time to come in”.

    Maybe one reason so many marriages are ending in failure is that we did not learn how to effectively communicate from an early age. So I would have to agree that yes maybe too much screen time is effecting the development of social skills.
    Cheryl

  7. You have brought up some really great topics to think about. I think the key for screen time would be the same as most other things. Moderation. If there is a balance between screen time and time spent on other activities, it can be both beneficial and enjoyable. Too often though, moderation goes out the window. I have been telling myself that I have to set a good example for my kids. If I am spending time on my device, they most likely will too and we will waste valuable time that could have been spent helping to develop their little minds instead of stunting them as you so nicely explained. The problem with instant gratification definitely plays a huge part in our lives too. I remember saving money to buy something or waiting for a letter to arrive in the mail from my pen pal. These things seem almost foreign to my kids. And myself to an extent.
    Some days I thing we should start a movement like earth hour to remove ourselves from our devices and enjoy something organic.
    Thank you for your post!

  8. Interesting Blog. I just found out that one of my children’s school have Ipads in class, that there doing a study on them, my child told me that their using them in class and everyone kid has one and their 22 in that class. Maybe technology will take over how teachers teach our children in school too. I give my kids a limit on them.

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