It has become so common, nowadays, for most teenagers to own a mobile phone, a tablet, laptop, desktop or anything else electronic that they use to log into online communities, chat or update their statuses on social sites such as Facebook. Parents are so used to their ‘modern’ demands that not only they easily give in but usually don’t control the amount on time they spend on these devices.

Unfortunately for these carefree parents, a recent study comes to confirm what psychologists, scientists and medical specialists have been suggesting all along: ‘Children get more sleep, do better in school, behave better and see other health benefits when parents limit content and the amount of time their children spend on the computer or in front of the TV.’

The study, published, in JAMA Pediatrics and led  by psychology professor Douglas Gentile, supported that ‘there is a ripple effect associated with the benefits of limiting both screen time and media content’. Gentile is not surprised to see a direct impact on sleep, academics and behavior. However, limited screen time also indirectly affects body mass index. The study found that children got more sleep if parents limited screen time, which also resulted in lower risk of obesity. Parents limiting exposure to violent media resulted in increased pro social behavior and lowered aggressive behavior seven months later.’

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Due to the fact that it’s difficult to immediately identify the bad effects of too much screen exposure or the benefits of limiting that exposure, parents can have a hard time identify overuse of these ubiquitous devices as a problem. That often results to parents not paying too much attention on the time their children spend on their phones.

The study’s authors insists that parents have more power than they realize. He believes that ‘when parents are involved it has a powerful protective effect across a wide range of different areas that they probably never would have expected to see. However, parents aren’t likely to notice that putting limits on the children’s media is having these effects seven months later. Yes, as screen time goes up, school performance goes down, but that doesn’t happen overnight. If I watch a lot of TV today, I don’t get an F in my class tomorrow.’

Research has established an average of more than 40 hours a week screen time spent by children. That excludes time spent on a computer at school. Totally eliminating screen time in children and teenagers is not suggested here. Simply, parents needs to take more control of the situation, realize the bad consequences of too much media exposure on their children and find a healthy balance that will benefit  both them and their children.

Researchers also urge doctors to get more involved in the ‘problem’ and spend time talking to parents about the benefits of limiting screen time in their children. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time a day for children two years and older.

Douglas Gentile believes that because ‘reality far exceeds those recommendations’, that explains the reason why doctors feel it is fruitless to talk to parents about media use guidelines. He hopes that the study will raise more awareness on the subject and pediatricians worldwide will realize the importance of such a conversation with parents.

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According to Gentile, ‘even if doctors only influence 10 percent of the parents, that’s still millions of children having much better health outcomes as a result! Doctors should talk with parents about setting limits and actively monitoring media use. This can include talking with children about media content, explaining the purpose of various media and providing overall guidance.’(Source: ScienceDaily)

Of course, counseling our children is great, but true change starts from us. Being constantly connected is a modern guilty pleasure, and one that we’re clearly overdoing. Limiting our own screen time, reaping the benefits of a better rested brain, and leading by example here are the key factors.

Enjoy your Facebook and social media, but remember that virtue lies in moderation. Know when to stop, put that glowing window down, and look out to the real world now and then. I just did, and I was surprised to discover that it’s still there, and more beautiful than ever.

 

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Psychologist, world citizen, mother - Effie is one half of the alwaysladies.com founding pair. She can bring to life any party with either a smile, or a strong opinion. If like us you can't get enough of Effie, visit her blog at www.thethinkingmomblog.com

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