Is Screen Time Causing More Scream Time In Your Family?

If you’re a Gen X parent chances are you’re frustrated by the increasing dependency your children have on electronic devices.

Today more than ever we are using screens for work, study, communication, entertainment and leisure activities. Screens are even becoming an integral part of early childhood development with young children learning to use technology at the same time as they learn how to walk, talk and toilet.

In 2015 a study was conducted into device usage within 350 American families with children under four years of age. Published by the American Academy of Paediatrics, the study found:

  1. 75% of children owned their own smart phone, television, iPad or tablet.
  2. Almost all of the infants in the sample (96.6%) frequently used devices and first used a device before turning 1 year old.
  3. Parents reported using devices as a distraction while they did household chores or other activities (70%), to keep children calm (65%) and as a bedtime settling strategy (29%).

But is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

As societal behaviours have changed since Covid 19, we now see screens as a way to facilitate connections with friends and family outside of the home. Screen-based technology has also become increasingly relied upon in the education sector and in the workplace, with a shift to home-based study and work-from-home arrangements.

But further studies have also shown concerning neurological implications associated with high levels of screen usage.

In 2018 a study conducted by Dr M. Twenge and Dr K. Campbell examined the screen use of 40,337 children aged two to seventeen. It recorded their hours of screen time on smart phones, computers, electronic devices, electronic games and televisions, and assessed their levels of psychological wellbeing in relation to the hours spent on screen-based devices.

The study showed that as screen usage increased from one hour to seven hours, their psychological wellbeing and neurological skills decreased.

The neurological skills assessed included:

  • curiosity
  • self-control
  • distractibility
  • ability to make friends
  • emotional stability
  • responsive amenability
  • ability to complete tasks

While these neurological skills became less effective as screen time increased, it is perhaps more concerning that the study also showed a link to higher rates of depression and anxiety.

Further studies have shown an association between the amount of screen time in children under two and delays in expressive speech development, while a group of teenagers found their ability to accurately identify emotional facial cues significantly increased after they spent five days at a nature camp without access to their phones.

A comparative study showed no changes in psychological wellbeing or neurological skills with zero or less than one hour of screen use.

So, there is a potential link between screen time and kids who are having difficulties in the areas of imagination, motivation, organisation and planning.

Ways to alleviate the negative impacts of screen time:

  1. Take regular short breaks from screens.
  2. Schedule more face-to-face family time and activities.
  3. Enable the screen limit functions on devices.
  4. Schedule an agreed amount of screen time for your family.
  5. Schedule “no screen” times e.g. from dinner until bedtime.
  6. Undertake family projects together that don’t involve screens.
  7. Use screens proactively to join activities such as online exercise or yoga classes.
  8. Be particularly aware of the negative impact of screen time if you have a family member with mental health problems.
  9. Plan activities to neutralize the possible negative impact of screen time.

With awareness, family agreement and strategies in place, you can protect your family from the possible effects of screen time, while still enjoying the benefits of the technology era.

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Relational Minds Child and Family Mental Health Clinic provides professional support services in Victoria for parents, caregivers and families struggling with the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children.

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