The Dangers of Screen Time for Young Kids

It might be hard to believe that it’s already May! 2019 is flying by quick, and this means that summer has basically arrived. Summertime often means a lot more free time for our young kids — which also means lots and lots of opportunity for fun and exciting physical activity! Hot Ground Gym® offers all sorts of options for kids fitness — from our summer camp to our obstacle courses and our Junior Boots Program. We have locations in Northbrook, Vernon Hills, and Arlington Heights, meaning lots of options for kids fitness over these summer months!

As many parents understand all-too-well, a primary competitor for all that fun and healthy physical activity can be screen time. This day in age, it can be near-impossible to escape the omnipresence of technology — especially technology in the form of little glowing screens. Be it Netflix, YouTube, or a general host of video games — basically everyone in the world today is glued to a screen. In fact, if you’re reading these words, then you’re likely staring at one right now! Unsurprisingly, the fact that we are so immersed in technology is worrying for many parents. Parents will do our best to regulate screen time and ensure that our kiddos are getting out there and moving, moving, moving. But, of course, kids fitness is much easier said than done. It is not so easy to compete with the immediate satisfaction offered by a glowing screen.

The reality is that screen time is difficult to avoid, leaving parents worried about the effects that screen time may or may not be having on our children. In this post, we will explore what science has to say. We will take a look at the consequences of screen time based on age and whether there is a safe amount of screen time for kids to be able to have. Having a rich understanding of the effects of screen time in this technological age can make a huge difference in our quality of life. So, let’s take a look at what there is to know.

Screen Time: What is It?

We hear the term “screen time” thrown around a lot. In general, this is simply used as a catch-all for any amount of time we spend in front of our various forms of technology. We mentioned Netflix, YouTube, and video games, but this extends to any use of televisions, computers, tablets, e-readers, and so on. But, the term “screen time” is most commonly used in reference to our children’s use of technology. You’ll hear “screen time” most often when it’s used in relation to kids and adolescents. This is fitting since screen time does indeed appear to sharply increase once kids hit adolescence.

A sharp increase is screen time can be a worrying thing to experience. It seems intuitive that all that use of technology will have consequences for brain development. But many generations now have heard the same thing in regard to whatever technological innovation they were dealing with at the time. Who didn’t grow up hearing that television would rot their brains? And generations before that heard the same thing about radio! This is nothing new. The poet Matthew Arnold wrote all the way back in the early 1800s that there is “This strange disease of modern life, with its sick hurry, its divided aims.”  This quote could have been pulled straight from the mouth of any modern parent today! Indeed, there are even reports of thinkers in Ancient Greece worrying that the brains of the youth were rotting due to the invention of the written word! It’s such a widespread worry that there is a term for the fear of technology: technophobia. But, is this fear warranted?

Is Screen Time Hurting Our Brains?

The science on this is mixed. According to the New York Times, the authors of a major scientific study on screen habits and well-being in young people concluded that there is “an absence of robust causal research regarding the impact of social media on mental well-being.” In other words, the evidence is not entirely clear. This has been essentially the case for the more than 100 studies that have been conducted on screen habits for children. This is surprising, given people’s general confidence that screen time has caused a general lowering of society’s IQ. Despite our gut feelings on this, the science around issues such as this is notoriously murky.

Luckily, there is ongoing research being done. There is, for instance, ongoing research from the center for Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development that hopes to get clearer on what technology is doing the brains of our kids. This is a $300 million project funded by the National Institute of Health and it will be following 11,800 children throughout their adolescence, all the while measuring brain changes, behaviors, and levels of health.

Screen Time and Kids Fitness

Despite the contradictory evidence of screen time having clearly negative consequences for adolescent brain development, there is stronger evidence that screen time should be avoided for children under the age of five. Screen time for toddlers appears to be tied to poorer performance on developmental screening tests later in childhood.

So, infants and toddlers should have very limited — if not completely restricted — screen time. Older children and adolescents, on the other hand, might be able to incorporate healthy amounts of screen time without it having major effects on brain development. However, these results should be taken with a grain of salt, as the science is young and — much like your teenager’s brain — underdeveloped.

Even if moderate amounts of screen time doesn’t necessarily have major negative consequences on brain development, it can still lead to a variety of other consequences. Most notably, the more time spent in front of a screen, the less time spent exploring outdoors, climbing obstacle courses, participating in activities at summer camps, and developing good kids fitness habits. We have written before about how to raise your kids to love fitness, and this is essential to developing healthy habits for later in life.

Don’t Let the Summer Slip By

Don’t let your kiddos — or yourself! — spend these precious summer months only playing video games. There is a time and place to indulge in some screen time, and it can be a perfectly healthy form of family-time and self-care time to watch your favorite flicks and browse social media. But these can be habit-forming. You don’t want your entire day devoured by an insatiable appetite for screen time. Hot Ground Gym® in Northbrook, Vernon Hills, and Arlington Heights has everything you need to get moving and make this summer full of treasured memories. Our kids’ fitness programs will work to strengthen your child’s physical, mental, and emotional skills. Contact us today to learn more!