With back to school comes...tests and exams. Already? Yes. But here’s something to think about. Teens who spend an extra hour a day surfing the internet, watching TV or playing computer games are at risk for performing two grades worse on exams than their peers, say researchers in Great Britain. The average amount of screen time per day was four hours for students aged 14 and 15 years. An extra hour online or watching TV was linked to getting a D instead of a B, said the study of 800 teens, who were followed over a period of time. The research was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
I’m betting that younger kids can also fall prey to poor performance in school if their screen time is not monitored and some good, common sense applied. Now I know we, myself included, have at times resorted to technology to occupy a child while we needed to cook, clean or even recharge are own battery with a few minutes of quiet time. However, here are my thoughts on making sure technology (that includes phones, TV, computer, video games, all the gizmos) isn’t a negative force to your child’s well-being.
For kids under 2: Screen time under 2 is not necessary and a lot daily may impact attention and concentration. If you choose to though, opt for educational programming in limited quantities. Reading with your little one and playing make believe is critical to language and development. Your child won’t fall behind in preschool if they don’t constantly use a computer or watch TV. Kids need to actively play and explore as unstructured play stimulates creativity. We’re all tempted to park our kids in front of a screen (that may happen now and then), but what your child really needs is interaction with you and face-to-face time. Research shows that back and forth talking improves language skills much more thana one way interaction with a screen.
For kids over age 2: Use your discretion, but set limits. An example: I don't allow TV in any of my kids’ rooms (and I have teens now!). Not only can it be a disruption to homework, reading and falling asleep, but getting kids out of their bedrooms brings the family together for conversations, as well as TV viewing, and even game night. Make activity and movement a priority and a great break from staring at a screen. (I recently had a preteen patient getting headaches from watching full movies on a small screen phone and from all the scrolling and movement on social media sites.)
Kids that are constantly on their screens can eat without thinking, leading to being overweight or obese. Exercise or physical activity goes to the back burner. If your child sleeps 10 hours, has 8 hours of school and then meals and homework, there’s not much time left for daily physical activity, which is so important. And what about communication skills? If children spend too much time on their various devices, how will they learn to talk and interact with other human beings in person?
So, power down, and pull out a board game. Or head to the park for some real one-on-one time, and have fun with your kids. Walk the dog together – and leave your cell phones at home. You won’t regret it.
American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychild.org, “Kids & Tech: 10 Tips for Parents in the Digital Age,” September 29, 2015