Screen time for young children

Why is too much screen time for children a bad thing?

Screen time has become a buzzword. You hear about it in the news, magazines and anywhere that offers parenting advice. When we first started talking about screen time, we were really just referring to televisions. Televisions weren’t portable, so there was only one place to be in front of a screen—home. Now, we have laptop computers, tablets and smart phones in our back pockets so screens can go with us wherever we go. Sometimes this is a good thing—it’s great to be able to find information you need or navigate to a destination. However, it also means screens are more readily available and kids are engaging in a lot more screen time.

So, why is screen time unhealthy? Too much screen time can do the following.

Limit a child’s movement. Screen time limits a child’s movement as they sit stationary and watch. Children are concrete learners—we know young children need to move, play and explore their world to learn. When children are stationary and don’t move around, it also creates some concerns about their developing gross motor and fine motor skills.

Encourage unhealthy habits. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ article, “Media and Young Minds,” children who engage in a lot of media usage may show an increase in their body mass index (BMI), which can increase their risk for obesity or weight gain later in childhood. In fact, a recent study showed that for 2-year-olds, BMI increased for every hour per week of media they consumed. This can be because children who watch a lot of media see a lot of food advertising and are also more likely to eat while watching TV. When we eat during TV watching, we are distracted and may not notice our body’s “full cues” that tell us to stop eating. Increased snacking during screen time can lead to nutrition issues.

Negatively impact sleep. Screen time can also have negative impacts on sleep, for children and adults. According to the Sleep Foundation’s article, “How Blue Light Affects Kids and Sleep,” the blue light that is emitted from screens on smart phones, tablets, computers and television interrupts sleep. Normally our bodies release melatonin, which is a hormone that is released when it starts to get dark outside, which helps you feel less active and calm down for sleep. Blue light slows down the release of that melatonin, which makes it more difficult to reduce your activity level and feel tired. It can mean that even when you do sleep, you are not getting good quality sleep. Nobody likes a tired and cranky kid, so it’s important to reduce a child’s blue light exposure in the evening, especially in the hour before bedtime.

Effect learning and development. Too much screen time can also cause problems in learning and development. Studies have shown that excessive TV viewing is linked to delays in cognitive, language, and social emotional skills in young children. Screen time can also be a predictor of poor executive functioning and self-control in children.

Understanding how screen time can impact young children can help us make smart choices about how much screen time we allow children as well as the forms of screen time to which you expose your child.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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