What is “Screen Time?”
Screen time is defined as the number of hours an individual spends looking at the computer, smartphone, or tablet.
The Vision Council reports that approximately 72% of American parents complain about their children being absorbed with their tablets and computers 2 hours daily. At least that’s what parents see – what about the hours when their parents are not around? One can only imagine how much more than 2 hours kids actually spend on their screens in a day!
How Does Screen Time Affect Kids?
Computers and digital gadgets release a wide spectrum of visible light through their LED screens. Although only a few of these rays are harmful, a particular type known as blue light emits very high energy despite the shorter wavelengths. This blue light is what’s dangerous to the retina of one’s eye, especially that of a child’s.
Mike Brooks, PhD, wrote that “there have been quite a number of studies in which researchers have found various negative effects of screen use.”
What Are The Effects Of Blue Light Exposure?
Basically, an individual’s circadian rhythm is the internal clock that regulates one’s sleep-wake cycle, or the regular cycle of sleep and wakefulness. When children are exposed to blue light at irregular hours of the day, their sleep is considerably affected, and this may lead to insomnia, reduced focus and concentration, and other health consequences.
On the other hand, it is important to know that the sun also emits blue light – more than computers and other digital devices do. Thus, when the kids stare at their screens for hours, it would be an added exposure, on top of the blue light that they are getting from the sun daily!
What Are The Immediate And Long-Term Risks Of Too Much Screen Time?
Below is a list of immediate and long-term risks that kids might suffer due to too much contact with televisions, computers, and digital devices.
- Sleep Disturbance. Kids’ screen times are usually monitored by their parents during the daytime, so they hide in their rooms at night and do their playing, social media and other stuff that kids do with their gadgets while their parents are asleep. Unfortunately, the blue light keeps them awake even after they have consumed their energy and they want to rest and sleep. Consequently, they are unable to fall asleep at the right time and they go to school feeling down and drowsy.
- Mood Disorders. Study proves that an irregular sleep-wake cycle causes one to develop unpleasant or erratic moods, irritability, and a short temperament. Children may have tantrums and their school performance is greatly affected. Jyothsna Bhat, PsyD, wrote that “nervousness, anger, oppositional defiance, and lowered frustration tolerance all indicate the psychological effects that can occur from prolonged screen use.”
A two-year study on 2500 high school students revealed that about 10% of these students who were exposed to many hours of screen time developed ADHD symptoms at the end of the two-year frame.
Jean Twenge, PhD, and W. Keith Campbell, PhD, wrote, “Even after only one hour of screen time daily, children and teens may begin to have less curiosity, lower self-control, less emotional stability and a greater inability to finish tasks.”
- Other Mental And Physical Consequences. The Vision Council reports that 30% of parents have observed several symptoms after their kids have been staring at their computers and gadgets for over two hours. These include:
- Shoulder and neck pain
- Decreased attention span
- Erratic behavior
- Headaches and migraines
- Dry or watery eyes
In truth, there have been no known long-term risks to too much blue light exposure, as none of the past generations has been documented to be exposed to considerable levels of blue light from television, computers and other devices.
Perhaps these long-term effects will be known only ten years after, and it may be too late. That is why kids – and adults for that matter – are advised to minimize screen time to prevent undue health consequences. Common eye disorders such as cataracts, glaucoma, and retinopathy might occur at a faster rate for individuals who have had extensive screen times in the past.
What Do Parents Need To Do?
Obviously, parents must not take this matter lightly. They should instill discipline on their kids particularly in matters such as this one because eye health is very vital to any person – young and old – and it is only wise for them to learn how to take care of their eyes early on.
If screen time cannot be avoided, such as when they use computers for school purposes, purchase eyeglasses to protect them from the harmful light. Also, do not be lenient with their screen hours. If they don’t obey, consequences must be executed, like grounding. Finally, bring your kid to the eye specialist for her regular checkup to ensure that her vision is clear and she is not experiencing any eye disturbances. And ask the specialist to discuss blue light in one of your visits.