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The Truth Behind Screen Time and Kids' Mental Health

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People around the world share a similar concern. Children and adults alike worry that they spend too much time on screens and devices. This may affect their mental health. Often families and friends interact more with their phones than with each other. Could we be "addicted" to screen time?

pew research centre mental health

The same study found that 36% of parents admitted that they spend too much time on their cellphone.

Could all this screen time impact mental health and wellbeing?

Does gaming affect children's mental health?

More cases of anxiety and depression are found in kids who spend a disproportionate amount of time gaming. Many of these kids say they prefer gaming to socializing and other activities because it helps them to escape real-world problems. 

Scientists are still examining whether the need to escape every day life comes before kids start to game or vice versa.

If the root problem isn't addressed, excessive gaming can make depression and anxiety worse and, eventually, lead to poor emotional health, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness.

This is because video games are fast-paced and provide instant gratification (they are High Dopamine Activities). Over time children become hooked on receiving regular dopamine highs. They crave them, and at the same time, they build tolerance requiring higher levels of dopamine to achieve the same amount of pleasure that lower levels initially delivered.

It was also found that video game addiction in middle school students had a negative impact on academic performance.

video games mental health

This suggests that the type of video game and the amount of time spent playing video games can have a negative impact on attention span.

What are the effects of social media on children's mental health?

The more time children aged 10 spend on social media, the lower their well-being is between the ages 10 to 15.

Girls were more affected by social media than boys in the same study.

Another study found that when teens got a "like" on social media, specific areas of their brains were stimulated. This stimulation heightened their desire to spend more time on social media platforms.

The area of the brain stimulated was the same area that showed stimulation when the teens won money or were shown photographs of people they love.

Teenagers' mental health problems due to social media:

stress depression slepe issues insomnia

What are the effects of excessive screen time on mental health?

As tech becomes a significant part of people's lives, users want to understand how devices affect their health and wellbeing. Most people want to use devices in a healthy and regulated way.

guidelines for each country screen time mental health

Many of the concerns over screen use involve worries about inactive kids suffering from brain fog.  The time spent in front of the screen is time taken away from doing other activities that could be more physically engaging.

Evidence shows that kids who use screens before bedtime sleep less, have worse sleep quality, and are more exhausted than kids who don’t look at screens before bed.

How can you determine if your child has a problem?

The University of Michigan's Center for Human Growth and Development and the American Academy of Pediatrics point to these warning indicators:

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Some of these may be symptoms of something other than excessive screen use.

Parents know their children best. If you are ever in doubt about your child’s mental health, reach out to a trusted doctor.

Are there benefits to limiting screen time for children?

Yes! Young kids have more time to learn critical skills when they are unplugged.

children soccer mental health good

Simple playtime activities like inventing games are surprisingly significant for learning and creativity development.

Children who have less screen time have more time to develop communication skills, move around, and get enough sleep.

Researchers discovered that parents who closely monitor their kids’ tech habits saw positive social, academic, and physical changes in the children when screen time was limited.

Can screen time be positive for your child?

Not all screen time is harmful.

The right kind of on-screen activities can benefit children. It boosts learning and helps them develop new skills.

Children's self-esteem grows as they become more adept at using technology.

There's plenty of learning-based content online that encourages kids to participate rather than be passive observers. Parents need to find these screen time activities for their kids.

And don’t just use screens as babysitters. Parents can interact with their kids about screen time. They should ask about what games their kids are playing and they can join in too.

Top tips for reducing your child's screen time

1. Be accountable.

Establish ground rules with your children and make goals to reduce screen time intentionally.

2. Be realistic.

Start by setting small, achievable goals if your children spend a lot of their free time on devices.

Instead of immediately reducing screen time to the suggested one or two hours per day, begin by halving their present screen time.

3. Be engaged.

Spend time each day after school or work chatting face to face with your kids and giving them your undivided attention.

4. Put hand-held devices away.

Put gadgets away or in a common area charging station during screen-free hours, so they don't steal your child's attention.

5. Create device-free zones in the home.

Make family mealtimes a device-free zone. It’s a simple place to begin.

6. Go outside.

Put down the phone. Go outside. Take a walk. This will boost your mood and improves your child's physical health. Physical activity increases endorphins and provides a happy feeling in your brain.

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Having a healthy relationship with your screen is possible. Stay on the lookout for specific indicators that experts warn herald possible addiction. Keeping yourself informed and up to date is your best defense against falling into a trap where your device controls you. Best of luck as you and your child start on a journey to better physical and mental well-being.

Also Read: The Science Behind Carrots&Cake

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Jessica O'Brien
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