By Karon Warren | Photography courtesy of reSTART and PC Tech Magazine
Our technology-driven world has created an epidemic of digital addiction, especially among youngsters who spend more time in front of electronic screens than they do playing outside.
Knowing how to use technology is a requirement for almost everyone in today’s workforce. Much of our time in front of computers, mobile devices and electronic screens is indeed attributed to work, but a large part of our time is spent in leisure pursuits such as gaming, perusing social media, and binging our favorite Netflix series.
Furthermore, we are passing these technological addictions on to our children. In fact, according to Gallup, which surveyed American parents and caregivers, children ages 2-to-10 years old spend 18.6 hours per week looking at electronic screens. That is four hours more than time spent inside playing without screens and eight more hours than playing outside.
Not All Fun and Games
Although media can provide great entertainment for children, too much of a good thing can be detrimental. In this case, kids who spend too much time staring at screens instead of interacting with the world around them are experiencing negative effects.
“I am seeing an unprecedented amount of behavioral issues in my profession,” says Tom Kersting, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Valley Family Counseling LLC in Ridgewood, New Jersey. “When devices and games are removed, the response is usually verbal abuse and often physical aggression toward parents.”
In the short term, children are struggling immensely with focus and concentration, and sleep deprivation has become epidemic among pre-teens and teens due to technology addiction, which is further complicating their learning, Kersting says.
Another impact of tech addiction among kids is the lack of socialization they experience with their peers.
“So much socialization takes place on the playground through the typical play and the ‘school of hard knocks’,” says Dr. Raun D. Melmed, a developmental pediatrician and director of the Melmed Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. “If screen time takes the place of those opportunities, there is a concern that a child might become socially isolated and less socially adept, especially those with social communication challenges to begin with.”
As screen time increases and play with traditional toys such as wooden blocks, toy cars, dolls, and crayons and coloring books decreases, the long-term effects could be immense for children.
“Current research warns of stifled imaginations, depression, poor interpersonal skills, health problems and a slew of other concerns, but only time will tell,” says Sharon Estroff, author of “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children up to two years old should not have any screen time, while children ages two to five should have no more than one hour of screen time per day. Kids ages six and older should have consistent limits on their screen time, although there is no set recommendation for this age group.
In addition, the academy recommends that parents share in their children’s screen time so they can engage with their kids and help them learn along the way. This could occur by playing video games with them to teach good sportsmanship or watching a favorite TV show each week and discussing any serious issues that may be covered in the storyline.
Putting Screens Aside
To limit screen time for children, parents are encouraged to engage their children in a number of activities ranging from outdoor fun and games to free play to imaginative play. With summer in full season, there’s no shortage of outdoor play opportunities, including games like baseball and tag, as well as splashing around in a sprinkler or swimming pool.
Summer also is a prime time for summer camps, where kids can enjoy some of their favorite pursuits such as sports, music and arts, as well as organizational camps like those with church groups and Boy and Girl Scouts.
Other ideas of free and imaginative play include arranging playdates with the neighborhood kids, attending story time at the local library (and participating in the library’s summer reading program), building with LEGOs, and completing art projects at home (Pinterest overflows with examples, instructions and free coloring sheets).
Plus, don’t pass up the opportunity for kids to learn new skills while helping around the house. Have them sweep and vacuum floors, fold laundry, make beds, and help cook dinner. Outside, they can pick up limbs from the yard, help plant flowers or put down mulch in the flowerbeds.
By limiting screen time and encouraging kids to play with nontechnical toys, parents can help their kids grow, learn and develop a wide variety of skills that are essential to their education and well-being.
“Many would argue that we always adapt as a society and that we will adjust to the tech-saturated world we live in,” Kersting says. “I disagree. Humans are social, emotional beings, and the more time we spend in front of our screens the less we are spending face-to-face with our fellow humans. The consequences, as mentioned above, are evident and will only get worse.”