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Hilal Her

Importance of Understanding & Managing Screen Time in Childern

June 2024

In a world where technology is used for entertainment and homework tasks, managing tech time among children is a real parenting challenge. Parents feel tired of constantly policing their childrens’ screen time while the childrens’ experience annoyance and frustration about having to explain their screen use. Showing concern for your  childrens’ screen time could have a reverse effect, where they become preoccupied with coming up with reasons to use the screen. Such a pattern not only furthers the negative effects of poorly regulated technology use but also strains your relationship with your child in the growing years  which is when they need to feel emotionally safe with you the most. 

Poor Effects of Screen Overuse On Overall Well-being  
There are several known ill effects of technology overuse in growing children. It negatively affects their age-appropriate cognitive and social skill development. Naturally, when a developing mind is overstimulated and underutilized in its different functioning capacities, considerable and measurable delays will occur.
Sleep Disturbances: Our bodies produce “melatonin” in response to darkness, which helps us maintain restful sleep. However, screen light closer to bedtime disrupts the natural production of this chemical, thus leading to poor sleep quality. This makes the child feel sluggish, tired, exhausted, and unable to sustain focus during the day. This can lead to dysregulation in the mood and appetite in the longer run.
Changes in Brain Development: In humans, much of the cortex develops rapidly in childhood and teenage years and gradually in adulthood up to thirty years. The cortex is responsible for smoothly carrying out a number of brain functions, such as learning and memory, reasoning, problem-solving, emotions, thinking, and other sensory operations. Research has revealed that excessive screen use (more than 7 hours) in children leads to inadequate cortex development, disrupting all related brain functions. 
Delays in Social Development and Environmental Mastery: Smart technology, including phone apps and their embedded functions, is primarily designed on the behavioral and psychological principles of reward and gratification. This makes such technology use especially compelling and easy to get addicted to. Such designs inhibit the child’s mind from understanding and interacting with environmental challenges and learning real-life skills. Such delays hinder how well they can assess and navigate a real-life situation and problems, make friends in school and sustain them, and adjust to demands in studies. Children can become dependent on-screen to regulate emotions when overwhelmed, escape social and personal tasks, and dwell in their comfort zone, stunting growth in other developing life areas.   
When to Interfere
Observing how children behave toward screen use tends to indicate whether the use is healthy or unhealthy. Excessive use of screens for play and leisure can reduce a child’s interest in engaging in other activities they used to partake in. Since screen use provides quicker and more predictable gratification, children’s minds will be less inclined towards activities that require active thinking, which could be beneficial for their mental growth.   
Overuse tends to overstimulate one sense and numb other senses in children, which can look like children being overly engrossed in the screen while losing awareness of their surroundings. You may have to call their name multiple times and louder than usual to grab their attention or get a response. This is because their minds are hooked on the stimulation and tune out everything that is not required to get that reward for looking at the screen. 
Typically, children tend to behave out of character when overusing screens. You’ll notice children throwing tantrums, outbursts, and trouble processing difficult feelings when they don’t have a screen to numb it out or distract themselves with. Such dependence on screen use blocks creativity and critical thinking, both functions of higher intelligence and support adjustment to changing life circumstances. These children are then at a disadvantage as they are robbed of opportunities to learn age-appropriate adaptive skills.
Parenting Strategies for Positive Interactions with Technology – Consider This
With the rapid rate of technology upgrades and changing age-appropriate needs in children, a one-time rule setting around screen use needs to be more practical and manageable. Parents typically need to be discerning about when and how much to let their child interact with technology. These are some benchmark considerations to consider while making important decisions that significantly affect your child’s health. 
Setting and Modeling Technology-Free Time: Being a role model for your children, where you set and observe technology-free durations during the day, can lead to children not only accepting it as a way of life but also finding it odd when these durations are absent in their daily routine. The key is consistency and using this time to create other engaging and fun experiences, such as outdoor activities, reading, critical thinking, board games. 
Building Digital Literacy: Children should be taught the benefits and harms as a crucial element of building a positive relationship with technology. Encouraging children to use their critical thinking about the content they see and prioritizing conversations with them about how certain games or apps make them feel or think is crucial to building their muscle for future decision-making, which will benefit them as well.
Rules for Screen Use: Rather than using rules to focus only on limiting screen use, develop rules to improve the quality of screen interaction. Set screen-free zones in the house, such as at the dining table and bedrooms. Preview the programs or apps before it is downloaded. Use certain apps as rewards for other desired behaviors appropriate to age. Seek games that utilize critical and creative thinking instead of numbing motions of swipe and tap only. Use parental control and regularly monitor the programs your child is watching and the content they interact with. Encourage using apps that foster creativity and content creation instead of only consumption. To avoid screen time becoming a solitary activity that isolates them, use multiplayer games to connect with children and build positivity around screen use.  
Benefits of Need-Informed Screen Use 
It is safe to conclude that screens have become an immutable necessity of our day-to-day life, and to structure their use is to structure our lifestyle. It is unrealistic to expect children to limit screen use while adults use it irresponsibly. Conversely, a positive and informed use of technology can help raise aware children who can use technology to further their creative ideas rather than becoming limited by it. Emphasizing the importance of taking breaks from technology and dedicating time to self-care and building relationships helps individuals appreciate the value of time and effort. It reminds us that technology is merely a tool to meet our needs and desires, and its benefits can only be realized when we use it with purpose. Otherwise, it can numb us of our senses, and we can lose the elements that bring value to our lives.

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Most of the time, the child receives only certain sensations
(visual and / or auditory) from a virtual environment,
and cannot correlate these visual and auditory sensations with other types of sensations: 
vestibular, tactile, odour, tasteless, unable to develop accordingly.
 In such a child, if they do not intervene early (before 2-3 years),
these problems will become more and more acute…
Cristiana Bălan, Spiru Haret University, 

Faculty of Psychology and Educational Science
 Braşov, Romania

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