Annandale, VA: Real Estate in Annandale
The School Bell
Battling Screen Time: Finding the Right Balance
By: Charlotte Foster, Director, Student Resource Program
Impulsive, moody, inattentive—qualities of your average teenager? Or could these words also describe your screen-addicted eight or ten-year-old? We all know that it’s impossible to totally escape technology, but what is too much? Where should parents draw the line when it comes to games, movies, television, and computer time? What is the harm in allowing your child to play some Minecraft after his homework is finished? Or in letting her watch some funny videos on YouTube? What if the movie or game is educational?
Most parents have screen time limits, and some have just relegated iPads, phones, and computers to the weekends. But is this enough? New studies are being released every day that are now suggesting and even proving that screen time is a growing menace to our children’s brains. As no one believes that technology will soon be decreasing, what should a parent know about screen time? Is it all created equal? Just what is it doing to our children’s development?
These are very important questions. Anecdotal reports from educators indicate that students are having more trouble focusing and reading than ever before. Science is backing them up: “Multiple studies have shown atrophy (shrinkage or loss of tissue volume) in gray matter areas (where ‘processing’ occurs) in internet/gaming addiction. (1) Areas affected included the important frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control (‘getting stuff done’). Volume loss was also seen in the striatum, which is involved in reward pathways and the suppression of socially unacceptable impulses. A finding of particular concern was damage to an area known as the insula, which is involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion. Aside from the obvious link to violent behavior, these skills dictate the depth and quality of personal relationships.” (Psychology Today)
So, what if your child is on his device a few times a week? That can’t be addiction; right? Of course, one concern would be that any regular usage could lead to addiction; however, further reports are finding that even any time spent in “passive” learning/gaming/watching videos can also have lingering, long-term effects on one’s brain development. One of scientist’s main concerns is the development of the frontal lobe, as this part of the brain determines success in so many areas of life including career skills but also relationships. With damage to this area of the brain, or a hindering of the development, can have a tremendous impact on a person whose brain goes through a massive period of growth from puberty to the mid-twenties.
What is a parent to do with all of this compelling evidence that suggests electronics and screen time are enemies to a child’s development? Like any other threat to a developing child, parents need to carefully consider what exposure their children have to screen time. Yes, computers and technology have their positive uses and are not going away. However, limiting screen time is worth considering. Many parents are allowing children very limited time (or no time) during the week, and supervised time during the weekends or vacations. Knowing that screen time outside of school impacts a child’s performance in school should make any parent reconsider family policies regarding electronics. This is easiest to do when children are younger. However, even if your child has grown accustomed to more screen time than is healthy, it’s not too late to readjust family policies. Get together as a family. Share the recent scientific studies with your child, as his/her age allows. Then come up with some guidelines that you feel comfortable enforcing. With programs such as Net Nanny, it’s relatively easy to set up apps that will help your family continue to regulate screen time.
It’s safe to say that children will be exposed to different types of screen time, and with the right balance, it can be fun and educational. Try to think of screen time as more of an occasional treat rather than something a child automatically turns to when he or she is bored.
1 (Zhou 2011, Yuan 2011, Weng 2013, Weng 2012)
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