In today's digital age, children are growing up surrounded by technology. They spend more time than ever before in front of screens, including televisions, smartphones, tablets, and computers. While technology has its benefits, excessive screen time can lead to negative consequences for children, including less time spent outdoors and deficits in developmental progress.
Screen time is on the rise all around the world, and according to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, which reviewed the screen habits of about 30,000 children aged 3 to 18 between January 2020 and March 2022. The study revealed that since the pandemic, screen time among children has gone up 52 percent globally.
A longitudinal study published in 2020 in the Journal of Early Childhood Research, looked at both cognitive and emotional functioning in children over time, between age 4 and 8. They also measured their daily screen time. The study found that excessive screen time led to emotional dysregulation and negatively affected mathematics and literacy in school-age students.
Outdoor play is essential for children's growth and development. It offers numerous benefits such as improving physical health, social skills, and emotional well-being. Children who play outside are more physically active, which can help prevent obesity and related health problems. Outdoor play also helps children develop social skills, such as cooperation, communication, and negotiation. Additionally, being outside allows children to explore and engage with nature, which can improve their emotional well-being and reduce stress.
However, in recent years, children are spending more time indoors, glued to screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children aged two to five years should have no more than one hour of screen time per day, and children aged six years and older should have consistent limits on the amount of time spent using media. However, many children today are spending much more time than this on screens.
One reason for this trend is the increased availability of technology. With smartphones, tablets, and computers at their fingertips, children can easily access screens and spend hours using them. Additionally, screens can be addictive, making it difficult for children to stop using them. Many video games and apps are designed to keep children engaged for long periods, which can lead to less time spent on other activities, such as outdoor play.
The consequences of excessive screen time are significant. Research has shown that too much screen time can lead to obesity, poor sleep, behavioral problems, and academic difficulties. Additionally, excessive screen time can have a negative impact on children's development. Children who spend more time on screens have been found to have deficits in cognitive, language, and social-emotional development.
One of the main reasons for this deficit is that screens tend to be passive rather than active. While outdoor play allows children to use their imaginations, explore their surroundings, and engage in physical activity, screens tend to be more passive. Children who spend more time on screens may miss out on opportunities for hands-on learning and active play, which can lead to deficits in developmental progress.
Another reason for this deficit is that screens can interfere with sleep. Research has shown that the blue light emitted by screens can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. This can make it more difficult for children to fall asleep, which can lead to fatigue and problems with attention and concentration during the day. Additionally, screens can be overstimulating, making it difficult for children to wind down and relax before bed.
To address the issue of excessive screen time, parents can take several steps. First, they can set consistent limits on the amount of time their children spend using screens. They can also encourage outdoor play and provide opportunities for hands-on learning and active play. Additionally, parents can model healthy screen use by limiting their own screen time and engaging in other activities, such as reading, exercising, or spending time outdoors.
Excessive screen time is taking over children's lives, leading to less outdoor time and deficits in developmental progress. It's taking away from interactive stories with peers or grown-ups. While screens have their benefits, parents must set consistent limits and encourage outdoor play and hands-on learning to ensure that their children develop into healthy, well-rounded individuals. At night, setting a "lights-out" rule is just one way to set limits. Encouraging the exploration of books or storytelling is a great way to wind down. By striking a balance between screen time and other activities, parents can help their children thrive in today's digital world.
Here are 11 activity ideas that children can do outdoors to decrease screen time exposure:
Play ball games such as soccer, basketball, or baseball
Ride bikes or scooters
Go for a hike or nature walk
Play in a park or playground
Have a picnic or outdoor meal
Water table or splash pad
Play outdoor games such as tag or hide and seek
Draw with chalk on the sidewalk or driveway
Take a swim or go to a water park
Participate in outdoor sports or activities, such as rock climbing or kayaking.
Here are 11 outdoor craft ideas that children can do in place of screens:
Make nature crafts such as leaf rubbings or pinecone bird feeders
Paint friendship rocks or make rock sculptures to leave at a neighbor's front yard
Create a nature journal to document outdoor adventures and encourage drawing
Build a birdhouse or bird feeder with seed and peanut butter
Start a garden
Make DIY wind chimes or mobiles using natural materials
Make sun catchers using colorful beads or tissue paper
Create a fairy garden using natural materials such as moss, sticks, and rocks
Make paper boats and have a race in a nearby stream or pond
Create an outdoor art installation using natural materials found in your surroundings
Create a DIY obstacle course using items found in your backyard, such as cones or hula hoops
Here are 10 interactive family activities that gets kids outdoors:
Go camping or have a backyard campout
Have a family picnic or outdoor barbecue
Go on a family bike ride or hike
Visit a nearby farm or orchard for fruit picking or animal petting
Explore a local park or nature reserve
Go on a family treasure hunt or geocaching adventure
Have a family game day at the park or beach, playing games like frisbee, volleyball or badminton
Go stargazing or have a family bonfire and tell stories around the fire
Take a family photography walk and capture the beauty of nature
Volunteer for a local environmental conservation project, such as a beach cleanup or tree planting.
For additional sources on how screen time affects children's developmental progress:
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) - The AAP offers guidelines on screen time for children and has published research on the effects of excessive screen time on children's development. You can find their website at https://www.aap.org/.
Common Sense Media - Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization that provides education and advocacy for families around technology use. They offer research-based advice for parents on how to manage screen time and technology use. You can find their website at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/.
Psychology Today - Psychology Today is a popular psychology magazine that has published articles on the effects of screen time on children's cognitive, emotional, and social development. You can find their website at https://www.psychologytoday.com/.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) - The NIH conducts research on the effects of screen time on children's development and has published articles on the topic. You can find their website at https://www.nih.gov/.
The Conversation - The Conversation is an independent news organization that provides articles on a wide range of topics, including the effects of screen time on children's development. You can find their website at https://theconversation.com/us.
Verywell Family - Verywell Family is a website that provides advice and resources for parents, including articles on the effects of screen time on children's development. You can find their website at https://www.verywellfamily.com/.
Child Mind Institute - The Child Mind Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and advice for parents on child development and mental health, including articles on the effects of screen time on children's development. You can find their website at https://childmind.org/.
These sources can provide you with valuable information and resources on the topic of screen time and children's development, and can help you make informed decisions about how to manage your child's screen time and encourage outdoor activities. I hope this was helpful! Please comment below and share some of your favorite ways to decrease screen time, and how you set healthy limits for your family.