We’re inclined to feel that too much of anything is unhealthy, but exactly how harmful is screen time? By “screen time,” I mean the total time spent on movies, TV shows, iPads, laptops, and more. There’s a lot of research on the topic that may stir up some interesting family discussions (but hopefully not over a TV dinner). Here’s some scary data to munch over:
For each hour of TV that a 5-year-old watches on the weekend, the risk of adult obesity increases by 7 percent.
In a New Zealand study, the average number of children’s weeknight TV viewing hours was strongly predictive of adult BMI.
In a Scottish study, kids who watched more than eight hours of TV per week at age 3 had an increased risk of obesity by age 7.
A study of children aged 9 to 12 found that having a TV in the bedroom was a signiﬁcant risk factor for obesity. It has also been linked to smoking later in life, lower test scores, and sleeping problems.
How does your family compare? There is debate about whether some types of screen time are better than others. But regardless, some of the things that your child isn’t doing when they’re sitting in front of a screen include asking questions, taking initiative, practicing hand-eye coordination, engaging in critical thinking and playing with others.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks that children under 2 should have no screen time at all, and children aged 2 and up should have no more than two hours of “non-educational” screen time per day. The AAP also uncovered strong evidence that excessive TV can lead to weight gain and consequences in adulthood, including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
Children who did not adhere to AAP guidelines were three to four times more likely to be overweight. Preschool-aged children who consistently ate dinner with their parents, got adequate sleep, and had limited screen time had 40 percent lower rates of obesity than their counterparts who didn’t follow these practices (the full study is available at tinyurl.com/3u7ao52).
We may be dazzled by new technology and apps that claim to offer “education” and “interaction,” but in the end, screen time is still a passive activity that keeps kids from healthier avenues of learning. To quote an AAP doctor: “In today’s ‘achievement culture,’ the best thing you can do for your young child is to give them a chance to have unstructured play – both with you and independently. Children need this in order to figure out how the world works.”
photo courtesy of wikimedia commons user MatthewPaul
This article originally appeared on p25 of the beijingkids November 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com