Nowadays, everywhere you look children (and adults) are glued to their screens whether it be TV, phones, iPads or laptops. Twenty-five years ago, the internet presented a way to find information with just a few keystrokes and a working internet connection. Researching school projects and keeping up with family members suddenly became much easier.
However, this has evolved into an all-consuming habit and scientists believe that the average 8-12 year old child spends 4-6 hours using screens per day and the average teenager spends a whopping 9 hours watching or using screens. Child obesity levels have skyrocketed and babies as young as four months old are being exposed to digital media. Although screens may have once seemed like the perfect solution for education and entertainment, in reality, they may be causing significantly more harm than good in a developing child.
As parents, it is worrisome to think that despite having the world at their fingertips, our children’s minds don’t get the same opportunities to “run wild” like in older generations and that this is having a detrimental impact on their development. We are not alone in these concerns. Psychologists, pediatricians and scientists have been heavily researching this topic and show clear concern about the lasting mental and physical impacts that the ever-increasing amount of screentime has on children. The results are terrifying.
In a recent article published by the Cleveland Clinic, it is claimed that children who are exposed to excessive screen time at 24 months show lower developmental outcomes at 36 months. Children with high exposure levels at 36 months show lower developmental outcomes at 60 months (and so on). Children learn best by exploring their environments. This type of experiential learning inspires curiosity and helps develop fine motor skills and screen time greatly limits this.
In an even more worrisome 2018 article posted on Psychology Today, the impacts of too much screen time were described as including everything from an increase in stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and impulsiveness to impaired cognitive functioning and a reduced number of dopamine receptors (which is linked to depression.) As adults, we know how difficult it is to function on too little sleep or when feeling anxious and the long-lasting impact that this has on our health. It is imperative that we do whatever we can for the sake of our children.
So what can we do as parents to combat the negative impacts of too much screen time?
Have a screen free break!
The best way to jump start your child’s creativity and imagination is to have a screen free break and as a parent, you need to set an example and put down your own phone or iPad. Admittedly, this may be a bit tricky at first so start by limited screen time to just two hours a day and not within an hour of bedtime (the blue light of the screen is believed to impact melatonin levels which delays the onset of sleep). Keep careful track of how much time you and your children spend using different devices. You may be shocked to see how quickly two hours adds up.
What are the benefits of going screen free?
Once you start limiting your family’s exposure to screens, within just a few days you should see an increase in present moment awareness, improved sleep, deepened connections, and an increase in productivity and learning. (To learn more about this, check out this article by Berkeley University).
The blue light of a screen can greatly impact a person’s ability to fall asleep due to an increase in melatonin. It is suggested that children and adults do not use a screen within one hour of going to bed. This has been shown to improve sleep cycles which has a positive impact on productivity. improved sleep has been shown to increase children’s performance in school.
Deepened Connections and Present Moment Awareness
By putting down our screens, we are able to interact more closely with our family, friends, and peers and develop better interpersonal relationships. Deepened connectivity with others encourages a greater sense of belonging and acceptance and helps children feel more comfortable in their surroundings. This is directly linked with how receptive their minds are to new information and stimulation.
Increase in Productivity and Learning
This increase in sleep and interpersonal activity gets your child off to a great start in any learning environment. This helps increase their productivity and helps them retain information that they learn. When the learning takes place in a variety of environments (rather than just from a computer or handheld device), they are able to apply the information that they learn in different situations.
You can even schedule screen-free weekend “daycations” to a local park, lake or beach and see how quickly your children become more curious about their environment, and committed to interpersonal relationships. Every opportunity becomes a chance to learn something new when you aren’t distracted by the screen in front of you.
If you would like to take a screen-free life one step further, another great option is to send your children to a screen-free summer camp. Summer camp has been an integral part of many children’s lives for decades and it is no surprise why. Summer camp is a place to open your mind to new experiences, discover new things about yourself, gain confidence and let your imagination and creativity run free.
The benefits of a screen-free summer camp are measurable. In the above mentioned article by Berkeley University, it is claimed that “preteens, after five days at a camp without media use, outperformed their peers in recognizing nonverbal cues of emotion, an important foundation for empathy.” This increase in emotional intelligence combined with the hands-on learning aspects of summer camps provides the perfect springboard to take your child’s development to the next level.
What better place could there be to break the cycle of device overuse and go screen free?
Join The Handwork Studio for a fun, screen-free summer!
The Handwork Studio, a fun, summer enrichment camp where kids learn by making. Since 2001, we've been the leading educators in teaching kids hands-on skills that you won't find in your school curriculum. Whether your child is interested in building, sewing, coding or design, we provide engaging activities for kids to embrace their imagination and think like innovators. Click below to find a summer camp location near you.