Many parents have, at one time or another, given their child a device or screen to entertain or occupy them. That’s okay once in a while, but some estimates suggest kids are racking up five to seven hours of screen time each day.
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That’s concerning, says psychiatrist Joseph Austerman, DO. Young minds need human social interaction and too much screen time can slow a child’s development on many levels.
“The more screen time a child has, the poorer outcomes they have with academic success, so, they don’t do well in school,” Dr. Austerman says. “The more difficulty they have interacting with peers, the more difficulty they will have in developing appropriate social acumen and being able to interact with people socially – it’s directly related to the amount of screen time they had.”
Effects of too much screen time
Children with an abundance of screen time may lose the ability to understand the emotions of others, Dr. Austerman says. This can lead to a child having fewer friends, poor relationships and lower self-esteem. In addition, research has associated higher levels of early childhood screen time with emotional and family issues.
For tweens and teens, he says, spending a lot of time on social media right before bed can disrupt sleep and lead to trouble at school, including symptoms similar to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dr. Austerman recommends kids turn devices off at least an hour before bedtime.
Signs your child may be engaging in too much screen time include a complete obsession with digital media – to the point where they become angry or sad when it’s taken away or cut back.
Model good screen habits
Parents who want to limit screen time need to remember it’s important to model screen-free behavior themselves, Dr. Austerman says.
Sitting down to a family dinner is very positive for social, family and emotional development, Dr. Austerman says. So it’s especially important to turn devices off during dinnertime.
“It’s very important for parents to get off social media, and put the cell phones down when they’re engaging in family activities,” he says. “This is how children learn appropriate behaviors with screen time.”