Even before the pandemic kids were getting far too much screen time. But with the pandemic forcing most kids into nearly a year of online schooling, screen use has exploded and brought with it a litany of physical ailments.
Eye doctors, chiropractors, and general physicians are all seeing a dramatic increase in complaints from parents and kids tied to the excessive screen time being thrust onto children.
Kids who already were becoming addicted to screens before the pandemic are now being forced in front of screens for 6-8 hours per day. And when the school day is done? The kids are spending additional hours gazing at smartphones, video games, and other screens – often in the same posture.
The result? Disorders in vision, vertebrae, sleeping habits, and physical development among other things. What’s most worrisome: over time, these problems can become irreversible. The screen-addicted child today will become the adult with neck arthritis, deteriorating vision, and other health problems.
What can parents do?
– Lead by Example – Because parents are as tied to screens are their kids, kids are learning it’s OK to be endlessly tethered to a screen. Moms and dads need to put down the phone, step away from the computer, and turn off the television. Read a book, go for walks (regularly), sing, dance, do anything and everything possible that doesn’t involve a screen. And set rules that screens are forbidden during such times.
- – Honor Closing Time – As soon as the school and work day are done, take your kids outside. Go for a walk, a hike, anything to get away from screens. And do NOT take your phone with you. Again, if the child sees mom and dad clutching their phones even during walks, it will become the norm for the child as well.
- – 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.
- – Stretch – The biomechanics of kids’ necks are being damaged by excessive screen time. Get your kids not just to get outside and play, but to stretch, bend over backward, lay across balls – anything to stretch the neck backward to reduce stress on muscles, bones, and nerves.
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.