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- In late 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released the first discoveries from its large, ongoing study on the effects of screen time, finding that just two hours of screen time a day could do damage to a child’s brain.
- Other research, however, has suggested the negative effects of screen time are negligible when it comes to kids’ health.
- Rather than fussing over inconclusive data, Jordan Shapiro, author of “The New Childhood,” told INSIDER that parents should focus on using screens to make their children better, more ethically minded people.
As more children are born into a world where screens are easily at their disposal, more researchers are studying the effects of screen time on this demographic.
In late 2018 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shared the first findings from a long-term study on the effects on screen time for kids, INSIDER previously reported. The study, which continues to follow 11,000 American kids between the ages of 9 and 10, found that children who had more than two hours of screen time daily got lower scores on tests focused on thinking and language skills.
The study, however, is a long-term project that won’t offer conclusive results until its completion in about a decade. Nonetheless, the initial results have some people worried about the ways and amount of time their children are using iPads, cell phones, and other devices with screens.
Rather than worrying about the unknown, one expert suggests harnessing kids’ screen time for good
Rather than worrying about early, inconclusive findings, Jordan Shapiro, a research psychologist and author of “The New Childhood,” thinks parents should teach their kids how to use screens with integrity. In his book, Shapiro suggested it’s more important to focus on how kids use screens rather than the frequency of use.
“[Screens] are a part of our lives so it becomes about teaching kids how to live with them in a healthy and ethical way,” Shapiro told INSIDER.
Shapiro attributed people’s fear of too much screen time to the fear previous generations had about too much television time. “With TV, there was this question of how long I’m going to just be sitting there,” he said. But not all screens are “passive” devices like television, so the concept may not be applicable to newer screen technologies, like computers or smartphones. “We’ve moved into a phase of humanity where we mediate through technology so its about figuring out how to do that compassionately,” Shapiro told INSIDER.
In fact, he told INSIDER that kids should start using screens at a young age and that he wishes he gave his own son a smartphone earlier in life (he ended up getting him a phone at the age of 8).
Instead of assuming screens will ruin a child’s life, Shapiro said parents should focus on making their kids the best possible versions of themselves in the digital world. To do this, he suggested parents partake in screen time activities with their kids in order to model and help their child understand ethical, appropriate behavior in the digital age.
Shapiro, for example, has allowed his children to pull up movie trailers on their smartphones during dinner, a time most parents deem screen-free. But Shapiro said, in these cases, the phone is being used as a tool to drive more conversation, not a distraction from important family time.
And for those who say too much screen time means less time playing outside and having real human interactions, Shapiro said it’s “a parenting issue, not a screen issue.”
“It’s on adults to make kids productive using the tools, not asking if the tools are changing things because of course they are,” Shapiro said. “We have to make sure [change] is happening in a way we want, but [screens] aren’t inherently bad because they’re changing something.”
Shapiro’s theory, however, contradicts warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)advised parents to limit their children’s screen time for health reasons. The organization even updated its guidelines in October 2018, writing that to kids 18 months and younger should be limited to screen time for video chat only, as INSIDER previously reported.
Additionally, the AAP suggested kids between the ages of 2 and 5 years old should be allowed just one hour of screen time per day. For kids ages 6 and older, parents are urged to set “consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media.”
“Problems begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world, which is critical to learning,” the AAP wrote on its website, adding that too much time in front of screens can also mess with a developing child’s sleep schedule.
Still, there are some studies that say screen time’s negative impact is negligible
Although the AAP’s guidelines imply that too much screen time is negatively impacting our youth, other research suggests that these guidelines are based on inconclusive research.
In November 2018, INSIDER reported on a study in the Journal of Pediatrics that showed screen time was associated with less sleep for kids, but the amount of sleep they were losing (three to eight minutes less sleep for each hour of screen time) was negligible.
“Focusing on bedtime routines and regular patterns of sleep, such as consistent wake-up times, are much more effective strategies for helping young people sleep than thinking screens themselves play a significant role,” study author Dr. Andrew Przybylski wrote.
Additionally, a new study from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK concluded that “evidence of harm is often overstated” when it comes to screen time and children. The study’s authors said the effects of screen time depend on a number of factors, like the context of the use, and that time of use is not the only factor that should be considered when determining potential effects. The researchers also suggested “families should negotiate screen time limits with their children based upon the needs of an individual child,” rather than ban or severely limit kids’ screen time out of fear of the unknown.
Only with more conclusive research will we be able to understand and appropriately react to the effects of screens.
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
- Read more:
- Kids as young as 7 are finding ingenious ways around Apple’s screen time controls
- Leading doctors say there is little medical evidence for limiting screen time for kids, even though a major study disagrees
- Screen time may not be that damaging to your kids’ sleep, despite what you’ve been told