Why Screen Time Matters

By Dr. Kimberly S. Young, Founder Netaddiction.com and the Centre for Internet Addiction Recovery

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While the use of technology as a learning tool holds much promise for our kids, the misuse of technology can have the opposite effect. Research clearly shows that too much ‘screen time’ is linked to a lack of school success – poor grades, lower reading scores, inattention, dulled thinking, and social problems. It is not hard to see how TV, video games, and internet activities might interfere with healthy eating and sleeping habits, and getting your homework done. Less well known is how ‘screen time’ can rob children of opportunities to develop essential learning skills. New research from the world of neuroscience shows that too much ‘screen time’ – versus not enough ‘face time’- is wiring children’s brains in ways that can make learning in the classroom, and getting along with teachers and other students more difficult.

Measuring Screen Addiction

Given the popularity of the Internet, detecting and diagnosing Internet addiction is often difficult as regular use of screens easily mask addictive behavior, I had developed the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire (IADQ) as a screening instrument utilized for diagnosis. The questionnaire is the only DSM-based criteria and widely used in the research:

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

People are considered ‘dependent’ when endorsing five or more of the questions.  Associated features also included ordinarily excessive Internet use, neglect of routine duties or life responsibilities, social isolation, and being secretive about online activities or a sudden demand for privacy when online. Generally speaking, screen addiction focuses on the key criteria of preoccupation, consequences, lack of control, withdrawal.

Problems with Too Much Screen Time

Quite simply, children must pay attention to lessons, and keep focused to complete their work. When kids come to expect the level of excitement, stimulation, and instant rewards provided by fast-paced TV shows and video games, and from surfing the net, their brains are not ready for learning in the classroom. The danger is that kids expect to be entertained, which they will not be at school or in the workplace.

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Many school assignments test a child’s ability to stick with an activity. Kids need opportunities to practice patience and persistence so they are ready for any dull or challenging tasks at school or in the workplace. A lot of screen content is instantly entertaining, and provides kids few chances to practice patience.

Teachers have noticed that intermediate and secondary students of all abilities, are having more difficulty coming up with ideas, using ‘higher level’ thinking skills, and solving problems. Problem solving requires that students have the ability to think critically and creatively. They must also be willing to spend considerable time thinking deeply about a problem. Unfortunately, with so many of their waking hours spent in front screens, many students are left with little time for deep thought. Not only does ‘screen time’ interfere with ‘think time’, the rapid delivery of screen content only gives enough time for shallow thinking.

Studies show the more time people spend on computers, the less time they spend interacting with others face-to-face. Children who do not get enough ‘face time’ can miss vital opportunities to develop nonverbal skills – such as reading facial expressions or body language. Misreading nonverbal messages can cause all kinds of social problems at school and later on in life.

What Parents Can Do

Limit Screen Time

  • The American Pediatric Society recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. Children under two years old should watch as little as possible.
  • Keep computers and television out of the bedroom. Kids need a private place to study free of distractions.
  • Set limits on ‘screen time’ before homework is done.
  • Create house rules to turn off the screens at mealtimes, while doing homework, and an hour before going to bed. Make sure your child gets enough sleep each night.

Supervise Content

  • Know what your child is watching, playing, or doing on-line, and what is being taught. Remember your children will be picking up attitudes and values from the shows they watch.
  • Check the content and ratings of TV shows, video games, music and movies, and teach children how to plan their screen time
  • Use parental controls for TV and filtering software for computers.
  • Limit the amount of violent content your children are exposed to and monitor their behavior after watching scary or violent shows or playing video games.
  • Make sure babysitters or other caregivers are aware of your ‘house rules’ for screen time and what they are allowed to watch.
  • Become “Screen Smart” Together – Watch TV shows, play video games, and surf the ‘net with your children. Talk about what they are watching and help kids to question the messages and values communicated by the screen content. Make it a habit to inquire about what shows or movies they watched, or where they go on-line.
  • Talk to your children about sexual and violent content, stereotyping, and body image in the media, and strategies advertisers use to market to children, and the unrealistic messages contained in many Ads.
  • Be a good role model. Limit your own screen time and monitor what you watch when children are nearby. Balance ‘screen time’ with activities for a healthy mind and body. Choose activities that encourage healthy brain growth – talking, reading, arts and crafts, playing board games, singing, and listening to music, and those that involve physical activity – such as sports, playing outside, or going for a family walk.

For more information, visit http://netaddiction.com/