Screen Time’s Impact on Child Development and How Play Can Be One Solution

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The pandemic has made the already complex job of parenting even more challenging. With parents having to balance working from home and remote learning, many families relied on screens for learning, socialization, and entertainment. Questions about screen time and the impact on child development were already hot topics in our digital age, but the pandemic brought about new and perhaps more compelling concerns.

It is common for children of all ages to engage with digital devices. Even prior to the pandemic, approximately 80% of parents reported that their child between the ages of five and 11 interacted with a tablet or computer, and 63% used a smartphone. For children under the age of five, 48% engaged with a tablet or computer, and 55% with a smartphone (pewresearch.org, July 2020).

While screens are an inevitable part of 21st century life, too much screen time can have a detrimental impact on child development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children younger than two years of age. Older children should limit their screen time to no more than one or two hours a day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, too much screen time can be linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Irregular sleep
  • Behavioral problems
  • Impaired academic performance
  • Desensitization to violence
  • Less time for play

It has been established that excessive screen time may lead to obesity due to inactivity and increased snacking that often coincides with screen use. Using screens too close to bedtime may disrupt the body’s biological preparation for sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep and disrupting sleep schedules. Research has shown that elementary school students who spend more than two hours a day watching TV, playing video games or using a computer or smartphone are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems. Furthermore, increased time spent on screens results in less time available for learning and practicing skills important for academic and social development. Such skills include, but are not limited to, managing emotions and behavior, paying attention, solving problems effectively and independently, dealing with conflict, and resilience. So, what is the remedy? Limited screen time and more opportunities for play.

The benefits of play are almost limitless. Play is brain building and leads to changes in even the smallest structures. Play develops skills in planning and organization, cooperation, self-control, and communication. Often play involves trying and failing, and learning from mistakes, which enhances children’s capacity for solving problems and learning to focus attention, ultimately promoting the growth of executive functioning skills. Play also provides opportunities for learning to cope with adversity, resulting in increased resilience. There are many great blog articles on NESCA’s website offering information and tips for engaging in play and its benefits. They are written from a range of perspectives, which aids in understanding the wide-ranging value of play.

References:

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parenting-children-in-the-age-of-screens/

https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/119/1/182/70699/The-Importance-of-Play-in-Promoting-Healthy-Child

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations.

 

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Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.