Over Exposure to Screen Time
- The average 10 year-old child has access to 5 screens available to them.
- Screens are now described as "electronic babysitters."
- By the age of 7, a child has spent ONE FULL YEAR on a screen.
Remember growing up. Weekends and summer vacations were spent waking up in the early morning, hopping on a bicycle and running off to play, only to return home when the street lights came on. In most cases, we were sent back outside past sundown to play in the front yard with the neighborhood kids. Times have changed. A different level of safety and supervision has become imperative due to the risk and harm to our children. In the busy lifestyle most families have, screen time has taken the place of Hide-and-Go Seek, Mother May I and Red Rover Red Rover. While screen time seems like an easy fix to today's challenging world, many adults do not understand the harm that electronic devices have on children's development.
American Pediatric Association recommendations
According to the APA, children should not be exposed to ANY screen time before the age of two. The research around this recommendation is outstanding. Children over the age of two should be limited to no more than one hour of screen time per day. Screen time should be age appropriate and previewed by adults before shown to younger children. However, some adults ask why? Why should we limit the amount of screen time children participate in? The following information will help adults understand the dangers with screen time. This information is not only for children. Adults also suffer similar consequences when over exposed.
Our brain develops based on survival skills needed to stay alive
All living objects develop based on the simple need to survive. From the time we are born and through our lifetime, the mind and body develops based on this same pattern. Nature has dictated how we develop. Think about a infant whale. When it is first born, it immediately has the skills to swim, otherwise it would be eaten by predators. The same is true for a infant deer, who has the ability to walk once it is born. But what about humans? What are we born to do? Cry? That is about it! However, crying is an essential skill needed to survive. Children, especially infants have an innate ability to make their caregivers feel what they are feelings. When a infant child has a unmet need, they cry. This cry signals the caregiver, striking a emotion within them, and results in the caregiver meeting the unmet need. This nurturing process builds a trusting relationship between the infant and the caregiver. One could easily say that the ability to form a relationship is the first survival skill learned by humans.
The child's brain forms more connections during the first year of life than all of the other years combined. Most important, children learn to form relationships during this first year. Trust, respect and confidence are all part of the relationship building process. We also know that children who have inconsistent caregiving during the first year never fully learn to form relationships. They struggle with social skills from this point on. Another important part of the relationship building process is human touch. The sensitive, yet nurturing touch on the skin provides comfort and reassurance that the child desperately needs.
When a child under the age of two is over exposed to screen time, the brain is not wired according to natures plan. The ability to form connections with other humans is lost. The social connections in the brain are rewired creating malfunctions in multiple undetermined area. The child misses out on the importance of consistent human bonding, and instead bonds more with the screen that displays fictional images rather than the important human role models in their life.
What happens when the child is over exposed?
Many parts of the brain develop incorrectly and start to malfunction due to overexposure. Listed below are some important things to consider:
The front part of the brain does not fully develop
The front part of the brain is where you do most of your critical thinking. This is called the Executive part of the brain. Educators use techniques to keep children in their executive state so that learning can take place. Active calming techniques prevent the brain from downshifting into the lower part of the brain, which is also known as your survival state. Current brain development indicates that when individuals are over exposed to screen time, the front part of the brain does not fully develop, causing the individual to stick in an immature or adolescent state. Social and emotional miles stones are delayed and the individual will be challenged in these areas of life. While the child may still have a high level of intelligence, their social skills are far behind what is normal.
Relationships are not formed
We see many children these days struggle to have a positive and respectful relationship with their parents and adult role models. Somewhere along the way, the relationship hit a road block and trust was not formed. Not only were the connections in the brain not developed correctly during the first year, over exposure to screen time also create a sense of false reality with children. While children play games or watch movies on a screen, a fictional world becomes reality. This fictional word has the ability to stop and start over with the touch of a button by the child. Instant gratification is given to the user of the screen. But we know that reality is not that way. There is no "do-over" in life. If you do not like the character you are playing, you don't get to chose again. When the over exposed child falls into this pitfall, they fail to understand the relationship with the adult caregiver. In result, trust and respect is not only lost, but not understood.
Cause and effect
The same is true for the ability to learn and understand cause and effect. In real life situations, we have to teach children to understand that their actions and words affect others. This is a difficult skill to understand but one we all must learn through development. Children cannot meet the needs of other children until their own personal needs are met. Again, over exposure to screen time creates a false version of cause and effect. When the child makes a decision, the reaction is on a screen, rather than in real life. If it is a poor decision, the child has the ability to "start over." They never get to understand the human side of their actions.
Vision is altered
Studies also show that individuals who are over-exposed to screen time also fail to develop their peripheral vision. They only learn to see what is right in front of them, rather than what is around them. The other shocking research is that adults who are over-exposed to screen time also lose peripheral vision. The ability to multi-task or pay attention to multiple things at one time is lost.
No real life experiences and/or expectations
Children learn best through hands on, sensory based learning. They learn from holding, touching, smelling, tasting, hearing and seeing objects around them. These real life objects help them understand cycles and the process of nature. I think we can all agree, there is a huge difference between holding a apple, cutting it in half, and tasting it compared to a animated apple shown on a screen.
Social and emotional development declines
We stated earlier about the lack of social and emotional development due to over-exposure to screen time. What we also know is that as we continue to use screens, we start to see a decline in what was originally developed. We start to lose the ability to hold on to relationships. We lose the ability to communicate emotionally. The need for human contact and attention decreases as we become more and more addicted to the objects floating on our screens. Our smart phones, tablets and laptops start becoming more prized to us than friendships and family.
Children do not form a sense of creativity
Rather than creating their own reality, their own characters, and their own scenarios, children who are over exposed only recreate what they see in media and on screen. They lose the ability to think on their own. Some professionals say they lose their sense of common sense. They have to rely on the beloved screen to help them process everyday life and struggles.
Increase in disruptive and aggressive behaviors
Because the child has lost the ability to form trusting and respectful relationships, and the fact that they cannot grasp cause and effect, children who are over exposed cannot regulate their aggression, creating a unmet need that is expressed as a disruptive behavior. The combination of these items can be damaging through-out the individuals childhood and through adulthood. The ability to regulate your emotions is critical to success in the world. The inability to understand and control your needs could create a individual who is not a functioning member of society.
"But wait!!" you say. Screen time is not so new. Why this sudden concern?
Yes, you are correct. We have been playing video games since the 1980's. Children have been exposed to TVs and movies for decades. What is different now than when we were growing up? The difference is the balance. While we did play video games, watch prime time TV and go to many movies, we also had plenty of family time and active outdoor play to balance it all out. We went to schools that provided us with sensory based learning rather than todays focus on standardize testing and high IQs. But there is one other huge issue...
In 2013, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reported that over 70% of all confirmed abuse and neglect cases were due to neglectful supervision. This leads to a powerful question. What is distracting parents and caregivers from providing supervision and guidance to their children? In over 90% of the cases where children were over-exposed to screen time and handed devices to "babysit", the parent and/or caregiver was also distracted by the electronic devices. This creates a destructive circle in human development and relationships.
What is age appropriate?
Children need focused, one-on-one play to reduce power struggles and conflict. They need human interaction so the brain can develop the way intended. Children learn best through hands on learning. Real life experiences build better connections and sets the child up for success. The same is true for adults. Face to face communication, real life interactions, and emotional based relationships will create a strong foundation for the journey through life. When the brain is wired correctly during the adolescent years, the brain has the ability to adapt to new situations. Children must be treated and respected as individuals. They must be loved for who they are. There is no "cookie-cutter approach" to raising a child. Parents and caregivers must focus on the individual needs of each child, meeting the unmet needs with physical and emotional support.
It all comes down to simple relationships. Creating a connection with one another that no electronic device can replace.
What do to instead
Go back to the basics. Remember what it was like growing up as a child. Doing the things that we all did. Have open-ended conversations with children, expand their thinking and reasoning through interactions. Read and hold real books and tell real life stories that relate to the literature you are reading. Engage the children with fantasy and creativity based on their own understanding of the world. Sing every chance you can get without a radio or electronic device. Make up songs that are specific to the child and family. And last but not least.... Spend time outside and enjoy this incredible world we live in.