Screen Time & Your Health
Zoom meetings, FaceTime dates, Skype calls, e-learning, virtual fitness classes, telemedicine, online shopping, oh my! If there has been an exponential increase in the usage of anything over the past year it would be screen time… and maybe hand soap, disinfectants and face masks. 🥴
Before I begin, screen time right now is hard to avoid and I always take the “be kind to yourself” approach when discussing charged topics. I can’t think of anyone who is happy about the increased amount of hours they or their families spend on a screen in lieu of true one-on-one connection with other human beings. This post is meant to shed light on the research, rather than impose shame. This way, you can make true informed choices for you and your family.
There's a LOT of research on the topic of screen time! Just go to PubMed and search “screen time in babies, kids, students or adults” and you can see for yourself.
How does screen time impact your sleep?
Countless studies have shown that the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin (an ANTIOXIDANT for your body and brain) is suppressed the more hours one is exposed to blue-light emissions from screens throughout the day. Most of my patients know how much I talk about avoiding screen time if they are suffering with sleep disturbances. Lifestyle strategies are always at the top of their treatment plan when it comes to improving sleep! The research is clear on this.
PMID: 22850476; 25535358; 21415172
A comprehensive literature review study examined the use of screen time in children and its effect on sleep. Of all the studies this review examined, a whopping 90% of them found a delay in the onset of bedtime, as well as a decrease in total overnight sleep the more hours a child spent on a screen.
How does screen time the neurological development and behaviour in children?
Numerous studies looked at the effect of screen time on behavioural problems in children and found an increase in anxiety, depression and peer problems. Higher amounts of screen time were also linked to lowered self-esteem, increased mental health concerns, addictions and delayed learning. Higher amounts of screen time also put children at an increased risk of premature cognitive decline.
A recent 2019 article published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that screen time actually altered the myelination of children’s brain! Screen time that exceeded the recommended guidelines demonstrated impairment in the areas of the brain associated with language development and literacy. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3869
Contrary to what some people may have heard, screen time does NOT help your child learn words. A new study from the Hospital for Sick Kids Canada found that screen time was associated with a decrease in expressive/spoken language by 49%. Another study specifically found that for each hour of videos that a child watched between 8-16 months old, they spoke 6-8 less words.
PMID: 17889070; doi: 10.1093/pch/pxx123
The facts are scary, but knowledge is key!
What are the recommended screen time guidelines anyway?
The Canadian Pediatrics Society recommends no screen time for children under age 2. For children ages 2-5, it is recommended to have limited screen time at no more than 1 hour per day total. This would include TV, tablet, phone, computer, etc.
How can you develop healthy screen time habits with your kids?
Set limits and boundaries. As the parent, you get to decide when, what and how much screen time your children get to use. You can also set these limits and boundaries for yourself! Perhaps no screen time the hour or two before bed is a goal you will set for yourself. My patients know how much I like to set this goal up for them.
Do not use screen time as a reward. When “things” are given as rewards, children see this as a forbidden luxury. It sets them up to sneak or desire more screen time. Instead, let a reward be an event with your family on the weekend. Perhaps a hike, board game, skating or beach date.
Screen time shouldn’t be spent alone. Whenever possible, sit with your child(ren) and interact with them in the context of what they are watching. For young kids, talk about the show by saying “Bear! That's a bear. What sound does the bear make? Roar!”. For adolescents, discuss the events that are happening in their show and any lessons that are happening. Perhaps if unrealistic situations are occurring, you can chat about the unrealistic topics in the show so that our adolescents don’t develop a false sense of reality (potentially leading to depression, insecurity and false ideologies).
It might not be easy, but be kind to yourself in the process. I feel so strongly about supporting optimal neurodevelopment in children because I see what this does later in life. While it might be hard to avoid completely, finding hobbies to replace screen time is a great place to start. Here are some ideas: arts & crafts, playing an instrument, dance parties, board games, at-home facials or pedicures (or other pampering activities), reading, journalling, scrapbooking, adult colouring books, puzzles, exercise (yoga, walking, resistance training), baking or cooking nourishing meals and treats, pretend-play with kids, outdoor fun (walking, build a snowman, go to the park, swimming, sliding, hiking, skating, skiing), etc. The list is endless!
If you have any concerns about how screen time might be impacting your child's development, please don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. We love providing individualized care to help keep your kids healthy and happy.