The Pros and Cons of Screen Time and Learning a Balanced Approach


Screen time is a hot topic lately and many of you have probably heard about the negative effects of too much screen time, not only for children but for adults as well. We hear things like, “Limit screen time to an hour per day” or “Screens and games are addictive”. In fact, one author has called screen time “digital heroin” (Kardaras, 2016), while others say it causes kids to be “moody, crazy, and lazy” (Dunkley, 2015). Some say that too much screen time early on can have lifetime consequences, leading to high anxiety rates and low frustration tolerance (Dimmerman, 2016; Margalit, 2016). Technology has been said to disconnect people emotionally from others, which includes children disengaging with one another (or adults), but also parents being emotionally unavailable to their children. It all seems rather scary, doesn’t it?

At the same time, we live in a technological age. Many educators and other professionals value the idea of increasing technological skills and encourage kids to use computers and iPads at school and at home. Children are fascinated by technology from a young age, watching their parents and others around them using smart phones, computers, and other devices. As well, children are surpassing their caregivers’ skills in their use of technology; this has resulted in important advice regarding setting limits on access to, and use of, websites in order to protect children from accidentally stumbling upon things on the Internet that may be detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

Pros and Cons of Screen Time

If we break down some of the research regarding gaming and screen time, we see that it can have both biological (physiological) effects as well as environmental (interpersonal) effects. For example, some say that it can have effects similar to that of drug addition, that it can increase sensory overload, that it can induce stress-reactions physiologically, and that it disconnects people from face-to-face interactions and other positive engagement with the environment, such as play (that is, play that does not revolve around a screen game). However, the effects aren’t all bad, and many parents and educators would agree that technology and screen time has its place in today’s society. In a recent article published in the Early Childhood Education Journal, the authors noted, “the most appropriate and beneficial use of [media and screen time] encompasses the interactive engagement between a child and a caring adult. In the same vein as the promotion of shared book experiences and guided reading, current research about best practices with [media and screen time] calls for shared understandings and meaning making between children, caregivers, and educators encouraging bonding and enhanced creative learning in the gold standard tradition of crayons, markers, and paint” (Sharkins, Newton, Albaiz, & Ernest, 2015, p. 10)
As with most things, there must be a healthy balance between engagement with technology and engagement with others, face-to-face and in the moment. With this type of approach, we don’t mean equal bits of technology time with non-technology time. What we mean is: there is a time and place for technology, whether it is for learning or for enjoyment. Setting aside 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night might be a way to engage in this type of balanced approach. As well, and as noted above, technology use can have its most beneficial effects for children when using it with caregivers and/or teachers.

It is so important to be present with your children and with others around you. If this means checking (leaving) your phone at the front door or in another room in the house so that you can more easily resist temptation to be on it instead of listening to how your child’s (or partner’s) day was, helping your child (or partner) set or achieve goals, or talking to your child (or partner) about upcoming plans, then so be it. Children need positive modelling and encouragement to engage in a balanced approach with technology. If parents don’t show this, then they may be implicitly setting their children up for difficulties – including the above mentioned negative effects of technology use.

So, our advice to you:

1. Connect with your children or other people in your life face-to-face, then set aside some time to check email, social media etc.
2. Help set limits or boundaries (for children, yourself, or both) on the use of technology in order to live a balanced approach.
3. If you are struggling to find and implement this balanced approach, reach out and seek some help from friends, family, or professionals.

Good luck! Now it is our turn to embody this advice – by shutting down the computer for a while. Hope you enjoyed this post today. 🙂

Kayla Balsden is Registered Provisional Psychologist at Rocky Mountain Psychological Services. Kayla helps parents and children live a personally meaningful and balanced life. In her spare time, Kayla enjoys spending quality time with her loved ones, exercising, and spending time outdoors.

References:

1. Dimmerman, S. (2016, February). Anxiety the leading mental health issue among Canadian children Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/kids-anxiety-epidemic-1.3433379

2. Dunkley, V. (2015, August). Screen time is making kids moody, crazy, and lazy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201508/screentime-is-making-kids-moody-crazy-and-lazy

3. Kardaras, N. (2016, August). It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/

4. Margalit, L. (2016, April). This is what screen time really does to kids’ brains: Too much at the worse possible age can have lifetime consequences. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/behind-online-behavior/201604/is-what-screen-time-really-does-kids-brains

5. Sharkins, K.A., Newton, A.B., Albaiz, N.E.A., & Ernest, J.M. (2015). Preschool children’s exposure to media, technology, and screen time: Perspectives of caregivers from three early childcare settings. Early Childhood Education Journal, 43(6), . DOI: 10.1007/s10643-015-0732-3

6. Unknown Author, Occupational Therapist (2016, August). Why are our children so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends? Retrieved from http://yourot.com/parenting-club/2016/5/16/why-our-children-are-so-bored-at-school-cant-wait-and-get-so-easily-frustrated