Many parents intuitively feel that too much screen time is bad for their children. But is it really unacceptable to allow our children to be entertained by phones, television and laptops while we are busy? What exactly is harmful about excessive screen time, and is it all bad in the first place?
The reality is that screen time has become indispensable in the increasingly digitized world we live in. And as with many other things in life, moderation in usage is always the key.
Educational screen time has positive effects on task persistence and educational outcomes of children, and does not negatively impact their psychological and physical well-being. Technology provides easy access to a variety of online resources, aiding children in being self-directed learners. Children can also gain knowledge of current events.
Encourages socialization and builds technical skills
The use of social media helps children build connections with one another and allows them to be creative and exchange ideas, improving interpersonal skills such as empathy. Games and videos are common topics of conversation and can bring children together.
Screen time also allows children to operate devices and navigate the online world, building invaluable technical skills necessary in our rapidly developing world.
Entertainment and sharing of memories
Of course, games and videos are a source of fun. Technology can also help create precious memories for us to look back on and share with people around us.
Unhealthy diet and obesity
Screen time – especially television time – is associated with unhealthy diets. Eating while glued to the television may result in overeating, while exposure to advertisements for unhealthy food can unconsciously increase our preference for such foods. Long hours of screen time may also displace other healthy activities such as physical exercise, leading to obesity.
Exposure to blue light emitted by screen-based devices before bedtime delays sleep onset and reduces sleep quality. Insufficient sleep reduces essential brain activities of children such as brain maturation, emotion regulation and learning, as well as alertness and attention. Moreover, just as uncontrolled screen time can displace physical exercise, it can also displace sleep.
More depressive and anxiety symptoms
Screen time beyond recommended guidelines is associated with depressive and anxiety symptoms. For adolescents, increased video-gaming screen time is associated with deterioration of mental health, academic achievement and self-esteem, and also brings about feelings of disconnect with school.
More time spent on devices translates to greater exposure to cyber risks. A local survey conducted in 2018 by an international think-tank revealed that 54% of 8 to 12-year-old children in Singapore are exposed to at least one cyber-risk.
43% were victimized through cyber-bullying in 2017
16% were involved in online sexual behaviours (e.g. searching for/visiting websites with sexual content; proactively downloading/sending/receiving online sexual content; having sexual conversations online with strangers)
12% chatted with and met online strangers in real life
11% met the criteria for video game addiction
The best way to safeguard your children’s interest is to strike a balance between screen time and real-life human interactions. It’s a tricky line to tread, but essential to ensure that children continue to have access to the enriching world of technology, but in a safe, healthy and calibrated manner. Check out our next article for tips on managing screen time at home in the next eDM.
*Stay tuned for our Part 2 article on Tips for managing your child’s screen time
Guerrero, M. D., Barnes, J. D., Chaput, J., & Tremblay, M. S. (2019). Screen time and problem behaviors in children: Exploring the mediating role of sleep duration. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 16(105).https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-019-0862-x