1. Life Has No On/Off Switch
Have you ever seen a mother chuckle as her baby tries to “swipe” a real photograph, or punch their fingers onto a poster or book as if it were a touchscreen? It may seem cute, but it points to something much deeper in the child’s brain—an internalization that all actions have an immediate effect, and all stimuli elicit a quick response.
This is true in the on-screen world, but nowhere else. When every finger swipe brings about a response of colors and shapes and sounds, a child’s brain responds gleefully with the neurotransmitter dopamine, the key component in our reward system that is associated with feelings of pleasure. Dopamine hits in the brain can feel almost addictive, and when a child gets too used to an immediate stimuli response, he will learn to always prefer smartphone-style interaction—that is, immediate gratification and response—over real-world connection.
2. Seeing Violence
The average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18. Many violent acts are caused by the “good guys,” whom kids are taught to admire. In fact, in video games the hero often succeeds by fighting with or killing the enemy.
This can lead to confusion when kids try to understand the difference between right and wrong. Young kids are particularly frightened by scary and violent images. Simply telling kids that those images aren’t real won’t make them feel better, because they can’t yet tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Behavior problems, nightmares, and difficulty sleeping may follow exposure to such violence.
Older kids can be frightened by violent images too. Reasoning with kids this age will help them, so it’s important to provide reassuring and honest information to help ease fears. But it’s even better to not let your kids view programs or play games that they find frightening.
3. Watching Risky Behaviors
TV and video games are full of content that depicts risky behaviors (such as drinking alcohol, doing drugs, smoking cigarettes, and having sex at a young age) as cool, fun, and exciting.
Studies have shown that teens who watch lots of sexual content on TV are more likely to initiate intercourse or participate in other sexual activities earlier than peers who don’t watch sexually explicit shows.
While cigarette and e-cigarette ads are banned on television, kids can still see plenty of people smoking in TV shows. This makes behaviors like smoking and drinking alcohol seem acceptable and might lead to substance abuse problems.
4. Impact on Thinking and Learning
Brains are “meaning-making machines” that learn through direct interactions with the world. Therefore, it is up to us parents to feed our child’s brain with the experiences that will help it to grow optimally. Just like when we eat too much unhealthy food and our bodies end up feeling bad, our brain is the same way and counts on us to provide it with healthy fuel.
If a child’s growing brain is being fed more than two hours of screen time a day, his brain cannot develop properly.
This can result in:
- a decreased attention span,
- underdeveloped or delayed language abilities,
- critical thinking abilities or creativity skills,
- and decreased intrinsic motivation for learning.
5. Impact on Feelings and Behavior
Just like the brain needs to be fed appropriate, sensory experiences to learn things, our social/interpersonal interactions help us learn how to communicate with other people. The best way to do that is by having relationships with other people so that we can practice and grow in our understanding of our own feelings and others’ feelings.
When children and teens are on technology for more than 2 hours a day, researchers have found that they may develop a stimulus addiction and have increased:
- appetite for violence.
6. Impact on Health and Well-Being
Although a few major studies such as the Kaiser Foundation survey found no correlation between screen time and lack of physical activity, there is a growing concern among professionals.
They see a relationship between screen time and childhood obesity because children are sitting for long periods of time while watching television, playing video games, and using computers. Such seated activities have been shown to be significant factors in increased blood pressure.
TV, video, and computer time contributes not only to obesity, but also to aggression.
Apart from the content viewed, the process of being sedentary does not allow for the physical release necessary to dissipate anxieties and frustrations, resulting in anger and aggressive behaviors.