What Does Too Much Screen Time Do to Children's Brains?

Reviewed on 6/25/2021
toddler getting too much screen time
Learn about how too much screen time can impact your child’s brain development and overall physical health

If you have young children, you know that they are part of a generation of kids who are growing up with smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices. This may have you worried. What is all that screen time doing to your child’s developing brain?

First of all, when your toddler is watching TV or playing video games, they are engaging in a sedentary activity that requires very little energy. But more concerning is the effect screen time can have on your child’s learning abilities. 

Young children learn by exploring their surroundings, watching the people around them, and interacting with both of those things. When your child is glued to a screen for too long, this can affect their brain development, impacting their social skills, behavior, and emotions. It can also lead to problems with vision, weight, sleep, and overall physical health.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, screen time should be avoided for kids under age 2 and older children should be allowed no more than 1-2 hours of screen time a day. Too much screen time is similar to an addiction and can be detrimental to a child’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

6 harmful effects of too screen time on children

1. Behavioral problems

Excessive screen time has been linked to aggression and other behavioral issues. Kids who have more than 2 hours a day of screen time are more likely to have angry outbursts or be irritable when they are not using these devices. They are also more likely to have emotional or attention problems.

2. Social problems

When a child spends too much time in front of a screen and not interacting with other people, they may have trouble with social interaction. They may not be able to pick up on nonverbal cues, which include facial expressions, tone of voice, and eye contact and which provide important insights on how to interact with others. This could lead to social and relationship problems later on in life.

3. Sleep problems

Sleep is essential for the healthy development of a child’s brain, affecting learning, memory, emotions, behaviors, and overall mental health. Electronic devices emit blue light from their screens. When exposed to this before bedtime, your child’s body may interpret blue light as daylight, causing their brain to signal the body to stay awake even after the screen has been turned off. Long-term exposure to blue light can result in disturbed sleep patterns and imbalances in your child’s biological clock.

4. Vision problems

Kids who are glued to screens for too long are at a higher risk of irreversible eye damage. Prolonged screen time can result in digital eye strain that may include burning, itchy, or tired eyes. Blue light is also damaging to the retinal cells and can speed up macular degeneration. This is also the cause of increased cases of myopia or nearsightedness in children.

5. Physical problems

Being hunched over smartphones or tablets for long periods of time can affect your child’s posture and developing spine. This can lead to harmful physical effects that can last for the rest of their lives, such as back pain and headaches

6. Weight problems

As mentioned above, screen time is a sedentary activity. This, coupled with eating high-calorie junk foods, often leads to childhood obesity. When kids have meals or snacks while watching TV, they don’t have as much conscious control over what or how much they eat. Therefore, children who have a habit of eating during screen time are more likely to become overweight. Obesity can also lead to various health problems including diabetes, joint problems, and heart disease.

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References
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000355.htm

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/too-much-screen-time-harmful-for-kids-development-especially-those-under-age-5/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28168778/

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