According to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, “The average young American now spends practically every waking minute – except for the time in school – using a smart phone, computer, television, or other electronic device.”
Research shows that children 6 years of age and younger spend an average of 2 hours per day watching TV, and children 8 years of age and older spend an average of 6 hours per day using electronic media (television, computer, video games, etc), including weekends. As the age increases up to 18, media usage also increases up to more than 7 hours per day, much of which is spent multitasking on more than 1 type of media. This really is not all that surprising, given that 7 in 10 kids have a TV in their bedroom and 1 in 3 kids has a computer with internet access in their bedroom.
The statistics are even more astounding in younger age groups. 66% of infants and toddlers watch 2 hours of TV per day. Children ages 2 through 5 spend about 2 hours per day using electronic devices, mainly television. School-age children average 4 hours per day watching television plus an additional 2 hours spent on the computer, not related to school-work.
It seems as though the data is proving that electronic usage is taking precedence over school time. During a typical school year, children spend about 900 hours in the classroom but about 1500 hours using electronic devices (television, video games, cell phones, computers). It is no wonder that education is taking quite the blow.
“47% of the heaviest media users earned grades C or below, while only 23% of children who used media for less than 3 hours per day suffered from the same bad grades.”
Education is also taking an indirect hit as well. As a whole, children are no longer taking it upon themselves to explore the physical world. They are instead staying inside to stare at a screen of some sort. There was a time when children would beg to go outside to play, to imagine, to experiment, but more and more children are instead begging to play video games or to watch TV.
So, what are the current recommendations regarding screen time for children? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 2 use absolutely no electronic media, as it interferes with play and cognitive development. As for children 2 years of age and older, the AAP recommends no more than 1-2 hours per day. It is also stated that the exposure to electronic media should be quality and educational.
Electronic media, however, does not have to be all bad. If used properly, moderate computer use could actually aid in the development of cognitive and social skills. In moderation, video games might provide sharper vision and faster reaction times. Those who use electronic media could also see a boost in their ability to multitask. As long as there is a good foundation in sociability, children who participate in social networking online could increase connection and closeness with peers and are more likely to express support and encouragement.
Just with everything else in life, electronics should be used in moderation. Yes, computers, internet, and smart phones make life more convenient, but many aspects of development (physical health, social skills, and even language acquisition) can suffer if electronic usage is not balanced with time spent in the physical world.
On the flip side, there are many negative effects of electronic use in children – the most talked-about topic is probably the fact that electronic use increases the risk of childhood obesity. With the increase in electronics use among children aged 2-18, it’s no wonder that approximately 12.5 million children in the United States are obese. This can be caused by a decrease in physical activity (children would rather spend their time being sedentary in front of a television or computer than play outside), an increase in mindless eating while in front of an electronic screen, and/or an increase in exposure to commercials which causes children to crave unhealthy food/drinks.
A connection exists between electronic use and aggressive behavior in children, in addition to an increase in risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking and drug use. Sleep disorders are also more prevalent in children who use electronics for more than the recommended 1-2 hours per day. Those children who are heavy media users have reported negative effects such as being bored or sad, getting into more trouble, not getting along with their parents and not being happy at school. Many children suffer from isolation in that they avoid social interaction, thus failing to develop normal social skills.
Finally, it is important to note the effect of electronic use on brain development. The part of the brain that develops last, the frontal lobe, does not fully develop until between 20 and 25 years of age. The frontal lobe deals with high-level cognitive skills such as judgment, executive control and emotional regulation. Because the frontal lobe is influenced by one’s environment, increased electronics use could potentially cause long-term negative effects such as inability to differentiate between reality and fantasy, indecisiveness or sheer overload from too much multitasking.
Families should heed the recommendations of the AAP, weigh the pros versus the cons of electronic usage, and decide what is best for the family as a whole. Stay tuned for “Electronics and technology: Part 2 - Tips for parents.”