New research shows that parents may be able to put down the pitchforks when it comes to their children’s relationships with screens and electronics. As noted in the Sage Journals, studies are showing that screens have very minimal effects on children and teens in regards to their phycological well-being. While it isn’t suggested kids sit in front of a screen all day and night, a moderate amount of screen usage isn’t showing the horrifying side effects many of us think. Just like with sugar, for example, everything is fine in moderation. If children are healthy, well cared for and supported at home, screens are posing very little threat to their mental health. This study also explores the much-debated topic of children using electronics before bed. Every child is different and caregivers know them best, but you may be able to relax a little when comes to the ongoing battle of screen time.The Study
There has been much debate over the use of screens and the time kids and teens spend on electronics. Policy makers, the media, the medical community, and parents often struggle with how to define healthy amounts of screen time and what can cause adverse effects. This recent study tried to combat the pitfalls that have plagued other scientific studies on the subject by studying time diaries from three different countries. Time diaries were collected from The United States, The United Kingdom, and Ireland. Much of the studies and data released in the media shows cherry-picked facts designed to strike emotional chords with parents. Some content in the media also skews the opposite direction and parents may feel their being swayed to allow screens for commercial purposes. Neither is a good feeling and even the conductors of these studies were torn on what to believe.
To help finally give some clear, unbiased results, data was collected from children ages 8 to 15. Their time-use diaries were either completed on a weekday or weekend depending on the country. A primary interview was given to each teen as well as their parents or caregivers. The study also included a list of well-being questions, a self-esteem scale, and a test used to measure depression.
What It Means
The studies discussed have had many positive changes in how we study and collect data on screen time. The measurements, data collection, and transparent testing methods will help future studies accurately measure the amount of time study participant spend on screens and the adverse or positive effects electronics may have on them.
These studies found the participants showed very little negative effects from using screens. The well-being of the children and teens who participated in the studies displayed very little to no changes in their mental health. The other important finding in this study shows mixed results on the effects of screen time before bed. It’s popular opinion that screen time before bed is very detrimental to sleep. Some results were negative while some were inconclusive or positive showing that there may actually be very little correlation between poor sleep and screens. Lack of sleep due to spending all night watching movies, however, is a different issue. The timing of 20-minutes on a screen right before bed, however, doesn’t prove to be detrimental.
One takeaway from this study as well as others is that unfortunately, there isn’t a set amount of time that is recommended for every child. Your child may be able to handle one thing while another child may not. A child who gets very little sleep, is bullied and has a tumultuous home life, for example, may have health issues well outside of their use of electronics and that’s where caregivers should focus.
Nothing Is One-Size-Fits-All
It’s important to note that even though these studies show that screens have very little negative effects on the well-being of our children, it doesn’t mean sitting in front of them all the time is a good idea. As stated earlier, everything is fine in moderation. Countless studies do show that the children who have the best mental health are ones who have positive relationships with caregivers, who spend a lot of quality time engaging with them, peers, friends, and other adults. Time spent talking, having fun, learning, exploring, and building relationships should always be the goal for parents.
This and other studies reveal that one to two hours of screen time per weekday and a little more on weekends, won’t do your children detrimental physiological damage. It’s what your children are doing the other 22 hours of the day that matters more. Sleep, for example, is one of the main culprits of numerous health and mental issues. If screens are keeping your children up for six hours a night, then this is a problem indeed. Not because of the screen but because of your child’s lack of sleep. One to two hours a day, shouldn’t impact the other hours available for physical activity, school, relationships, and sleep. When it creeps into those other timeframes, that’s what parents should be worried. Not from the screens themselves.
Another important note is that you know your child best. If your child is getting bullied, being a bully or using electronics to harm themselves or others, this is something to address immediately. Every child and teen is different. Everyone needs different things from their parents and caregivers and everyone uses technology differently. Make sure you’re meeting your child’s needs, emotionally, and physically and just be loving and engaged. A sportive home is what children need most in life. Cut yourself and your kids some slack if they use screens in moderation and adjust accordingly if you ever feel it’s a problem.