Some children are inseparable from their hand-held devices. They walk around like robots, glued to the screen. I don’t know how they can tell where they’re going. Occasionally they might giggle, but mostly their faces are frozen, expressionless. They don’t move at all. What happens when kids look at TV and cell phones and play Internet games 12 hours a day? They lose out on participating in life: seeing how things work, practicing interactions with people, and watching how others behave. Sometimes they experience the real world as fake and the screen world as real—or forget to take time to eat and sleep.
The following is based on Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children by Jane Brody, published 7-6-15 in the New York Times.
In its 2013 policy statement on “Children, Adolescents, and the Media,” the American Academy of Pediatrics cited these statistics from a Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010: “The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day. Television, long a popular babysitter, remains the dominant medium, but computers, tablets and cell phones are gradually taking over.
“Two-thirds of those questioned in the Kaiser study said their parents had no rules about how much time the youngsters spent with media.”
Before age 2, children should not be exposed to any electronic media, the pediatrics academy maintains, because “a child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” Older children and teenagers should spend no more than one or two hours a day with entertainment media, preferably with high-quality content, and spend more free time playing outdoors, reading, doing hobbies and using their imaginations in free play.
Heavy use of electronic media can have significant negative effects on children’s behavior, health and school performance. Those who watch a lot of simulated violence, common in many popular video games, can become immune to it, more inclined to act violently themselves and less likely to behave empathically, said Dimitri A. Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
Teenagers who spend a lot of time playing violent video games or watching violent shows on television are more aggressive and more likely to fight with their peers and argue with their teachers, according to a study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Schoolwork suffers. And the sedentary nature of most electronic involvement — along with televised ads for high-calorie fare — can foster the unhealthy weights already epidemic among the nation’s youth.
Children need time to daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with parents, who can provide reassurance. Technology is a poor substitute for personal interaction. “Children have to know that life is fine off the screen. It’s good to be curious about other people, to learn how to listen. It teaches them social and emotional intelligence, which is critical for success in life.”
Children who are heavy users of electronics can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.
Texting is a national epidemic, with half of teenagers sending 50 or more text messages a day and those aged 13 through 17 averaging 3,364 texts a month. One study found teenagers send an average of 34 texts a night after they get into bed, adding to sleep deprivation. “As children have more of their communication through electronic media, and less of it face to face, they begin to feel more lonely and depressed.”
There can be physical consequences, too. Children can develop pain in their fingers and wrists, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (the long-term consequences of which are unknown), and neck and back pain from being slumped over their phones, tablets and computers.