Kids have reached the point where they’re spending virtually the entirety of their waking lives glued to screens, resulting in fundamental changes to their bodies and brains and likely life outcomes.
In just the latest study on the subject, researchers found that teens are now spending nearly 8 hours per day on screens outside of school. Factor that into school or distance learning settings where they’re also spending as much as 7 hours per day on screens and you can see how screen time constitutes the majority of their waking hours.
“Kids were essentially putting in a full work day of recreational screen time,” said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “That’s a pretty crazy phenomenon when you consider they were also on screens for 5 to 7 hours a day for school.
The kicker? Rich says those numbers are very likely low. “If anything, this is an underestimate of the time they are ‘actively using’ screens,” Rich said. “When you add in multitasking and ambient exposure … these numbers are low.”
Screen-Related Physical Changes
Not surprisingly, eye doctors, chiropractors, general physicians and other specialists are seeing a dramatic increase in physical complaints related to all that excessive screen time.
- Vision – A growing number of kids are developing myopia (near-sightedness)
- Spinal Issues – Kids’ sedentary lives coupled with excessive screen time are leading to a growing number of reports of back and neck problems
- Health Problems – Pediatricians claim that kids are struggling with insomnia, depression, and anxiety due to constant access to screens
What’s perhaps most worrisome is evidence that, over time, these problems can become irreversible. The screen-addicted child today will become the adult with neck arthritis, deteriorating vision, obesity, and other health problems.
What To Do?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by such problems, especially at a time when so many parents already feel stressed-out. But there actually are a few simple steps that not only will help your child but also lead to an overall decline in your collective stress levels (win-win).
- Remember, adults were the first to get a computer, mobile phone, tablet, and smartphone. We set the standard for endlessly gazing into screens and our kids learned. Now we need to set a new standard by:
- Honoring Closing Time – As soon as the school and work day are done, grab your children and go for a walk, read something (not on a screen!), cook a meal, putz around in the garden, do home improvement projects. Show your kids there is life – real life – beyond a digital screen.
- Take 20 – Eye doctors use the 20-20-20 rule (nicely associated with 20-20 vision), which says every 20 minutes take a 20-second break and stare at something at least 20 feet away. This reduces eye strain.
- Go Screen-Free – On weekends, holidays, and during school breaks, plan screen-free activities. Hiking, picnics, skiing – anything that gets kids away from screens for a consistent period of time. Parents and kids alike are fast-becoming addicted to screens and it’s up to the adults in that equation to lead the effort to break that connection whenever possible.
- Play – The biomechanics of kids’ necks and backs are being damaged by excessive screen time. They’re also getting fat. Get your kids outdoors, sign them up for a sport or arts club – anything that gets them active and busy away from screens.
The bottom line: parents must remember they are the last line of defense for kids who don’t know any better. In the same way you limit your child from over-indulging in candy, remind yourself that screens can be just as bad for your child’s long-term health.