How much time does your child spend watching TV, scrolling through a smartphone or iPad, or playing video games? If they’re like the average American child, the answer is 7.5 hours spent in front of a screen for entertainment each day—4.5 of which are spent watching TV. Over a year, that adds up to a whopping 114 full days spent staring at digital screens.
In this article, we’ll be exploring how excessive screen time affects kids, how much screen time is too much, and how to protect your children from the potentially harmful effects of digital screens.
Why is screen time bad for kids?
While some screen time is not harmful, too much time spent staring at digital screens can have significant consequences for children. We’ll share how much screen time is too much shortly, but first, let’s review how excessive screen time affects children.
Hinders early development
Young children learn by taking in the world around them, exploring their environment, and watching the adults in their lives. When a child is glued to a digital screen, they miss out on experiencing everyday activities and occurrences that help them learn about the world. This leads to a kind of “tunnel vision,” which can inhibit overall development.
While children may learn some things from watching videos or playing games on digital devices, studies show that children learn best when interacting with adults who are talking and playing with them.
Impacts the development of social skills
Impatience in real-world situations is one of the most common effects of excessive screen time. A child doesn’t have to be patient with a screen, as it provides instant gratification. This can cause children to have trouble waiting, listening, and responding in everyday situations.
Excessive screen time also reduces the time children spend interacting with adults and other children, thereby reducing their ability to develop strong social skills.
Increases risk of multiple health and behavioral issues
Research suggests that excessive screen time is associated with various physical and mental health issues in children, including obesity, depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, attention problems, and violence.
Excessive screen time in children has been shown to prevent them from getting the recommended amount of sleep each night. This largely occurs because digital screens emit blue light, which inhibits the production of melatonin—the sleep hormone.
Children’s eyes are even more vulnerable than adults’ eyes to the effects of blue light. This is because children’s eyes are still developing and have little natural protection from blue light. Children also have larger pupils than adults, which allows them to take in more light.
Increases risk of digital eye strain
Spending extended periods staring at digital devices strains children’s eyes and can lead to computer vision syndrome (also known as digital eye strain). Many factors contribute to the development of computer vision syndrome, including decreased blinking, sitting too close to screens, poor posture, and intense focusing.
Leads to digital addiction
The feeling a child gets when they win a digital game or scroll through a timeline results from a release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. The release of dopamine encourages the child to repeat the behavior, opening the door to digital addiction and decreased feelings of pleasure in real-world situations.
Should screen time be limited for children?
So, how much screen time is too much for kids? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following guidelines:
- Under 2 years old: Zero screen time, except for video chatting with family or friends
- 2-5 years old: No more than one hour per day of high-quality programming that’s co-viewed with a parent or sibling
- 5-17 years old: No more than two hours a day*, excluding time spent on digital devices for homework
*This age demographic gets a little more difficult with recommendations because so much of their education is now computer based; it is recommended that these ‘two hours’ are leisure screen viewing like social media, gaming, etc…
How can you protect your kids from the harmful effects of excessive screen time?
The first step in limiting your children’s screen time is determining how much time they’re actually spending on their devices. Once you have a good idea, it’s time to decide where to cut down and how to protect your children’s eyes while using digital devices. Here are our top tips to consider:
- Prioritize high-quality programming: When possible, prioritize digital programming that is interactive or promotes helpful lessons.
- Practice the 20-20-20 rule: This rule encourages people to take visual breaks while using digital devices to prevent digital eye strain. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Practicing this rule gives the visual system a good break and a chance to reset.
- Fill the void: If you need to reduce your child’s screen time, offer them alternative activities to fill the time that they used to spend on digital devices. Good alternatives are sports, crafts, reading, and face-to-face time with family and friends.
- Screen-free bedrooms: Make a rule of having no screens in your child’s bedroom, as the blue light emitted from digital screens can prevent the brain from knowing it’s time to sleep. Instead of watching a movie on an iPad before bed, kids should engage in non-digital activities like reading.
- Model the behavior: Kids will respond and respect screen time boundaries if you as the parent limit the device you. Don’t pick up your phone during meals or while setting them up with a screen-free activity!
- Wear blue light glasses: When your child uses digital devices, have them wear blue light glasses. Blue light glasses for kids are specifically designed to protect the younger population’s developing eyes by blocking the high-energy blue light that affects sleep cycles.
Which blue light glasses for kids are best?
As the pioneer of blue light glasses and the only patented gaming and computer eyewear recommended by doctors, GUNNAR blue light glasses for kids will give you peace of mind knowing your children’s eyes are protected while using digital devices.
GUNNAR blue light glasses for kids are available in GUNNAR’s “Clear” lens tint, which blocks 35% of blue light, and our signature “Amber” lens tint, which blocks 65% of blue light. All lenses come with anti-glare and smudge-resistant coatings and are available in non-prescription and prescription.
With a wide array of frame styles, color options and designs, your child can choose a pair of blue light glasses that makes them feel like the coolest kid on the block.