Screen Addiction: A Curse For Social Skills & Brain Development

Is your child suffering from screen addiction?

While we might think a few hours of TV-time, web surfing or video game play is harmless, doctors in China consider this phenomenon a clinical disorder and have established rehabilitation centers where children and teenagers are treated and isolated from all media. The depression, loneliness, and lack of social skills and communication skills that characterize this diagnosis are met with in-depth therapy in Chinese rehabilitation centers. Even though there is no real diagnosis of ‘Internet addiction’ or ‘screen addiction’ in North America, over-indulgence in technology and media-based activities are becoming increasingly problematic for children and adolescents, including those in special education.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants and toddlers under the age of 2 should have no screen time at all. Why? The rapid brain development that happens during the first few years of life makes young children particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of too much screen time. Instead of interacting with laptops, smart phones, tablets or kid-friendly video gaming devices, children 2-years and under need to learn and develop through active participation with real people. Young children learn best by interacting with people and exploring their surroundings, not through screens. So reading a book with your child or taking them on walks to the park is much more beneficial than that animated YouTube video that makes them laugh uncontrollably.

The AAP also recommends that adults limit older children’s and adolescent’s screen time to no more than two hours daily. This means that you should keep your child’s total tech-time and media interactions (including TV-viewing, computer time, cell phone use and video games) under the 120-minute mark. Doing so promotes health (as less screen time promotes more active play time) and brain empowerment for the child. A child’s free time should be spent playing outdoors, reading, engaging in hobbies they enjoy, and most importantly, using their imagination instead of using their phones or laptops.

In contrast with the AAP’s research-founded suggestions, children ages eight to 18 STILL spend an average of 8-11 hours  engaged in media-based activities daily. These findings, based on a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study, show that the use of all types of electronic media by children and teens has increased significantly in the past 10 years. Sadly, during this same time period the amount of time that young people spend reading has decreased.

We live in an era where social media and electronic gadgets have become such a staple that parents and educators seem to be unaware of just how much time children are spending in the virtual world. If you’re not sure if (or why) the rise in media engagement is harmful for your child or student, take a look at some of the problems that it can cause.

Consistent use of media can lead to an array of issues ranging from depression and isolation to the lack of creative skills/abilities and/or social skills. Constant use of electronic media also has significant negative effects on children’s behavior, over-all health (ever heard of couch potatoes & obesity?), and academics.

Children who spend a lot of time playing violent video games have been found to be more aggressive and more likely to engage in risky or violent behaviors. For example, a fourth grader was asked about video games and stated “Call Of Duty: Black Ops” as his favorite video game because “there’s zombies in it, and you get to kill them with guns and there’s violence…I like blood and violence.”

Additionally, schoolwork tends to suffer when media time infringes on homework time and study time. And lastly, excessive electronic use causes a lack of exercise and active movement, thus encouraging unhealthy weight and lifestyles choices in today’s youth.

It’s clear that when children live online or are sucked into the imaginary world of TV or video games they run the risk of isolation, depression and loneliness. Children and teens need to communicate through face-to-face interactions in order to build social abilities and get skills that are vital for work success and life success.

Children and teens need to communicate through face-to-face interactions in order to build social abilities and get skills that are vital for work success and life success.

Keep in mind that screen addiction isn’t limited to a video gaming system or a computer. The Pew Research Center notes that 24 percent of teens say that they are online “almost constantly.” This is in large part due to the rise of smart phone use. Eighty-eight percent of teens own a smart phone or have easy access to one. Ninety percent of the teens with smart phones text constantly, with the average adolescent exchanging about 3,500 texts a month!

So what can you do to protect your child or student from the negative effects of media use? Here are some suggestions:

  • Set a limit for his or her screen time.
  • Substitute physical family activities for screen time.
  • Follow the AAP’s recommendations and enforce them.
  • Make sure all homework is complete before allowing them to play video games or watch TV.
  • Monitor when the child is online, playing video games or watching TV.
  • Keep track of the hours that he or she is logging, and turn off the screen when it gets to be too much.

It’s important to remember that social media and technology is a poor substitute for personal interaction and social development.

Source: New York Times, “Screen Addiction Is Taking A Toll On Children”

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