What Research Says about the Impact of Screen Time on Young Children and Adolescents

Dr. Mike Hill
How is screen time affecting your child?

On average, children spend nearly seven hours per day consuming some form of digital media, while adults spend, on average, a staggering 11 hours per day in front of a screen [1][2]. Think about it for a second, does the thought of leaving your phone at home give you anxiety? Does your “quick look” on social media turn into hours of mindless scrolling? Do you need GPS to drive right around the corner? Digital devices, in and of themselves, are not bad. It is how we use them that makes the difference. Given the immense amount of time we spend on screens, it behooves us to understand the impact of these devices. Here’s a look at what the latest research has to say.

Excessive screen time can negatively impact learning and school performance.

Several recent studies have supported what every conscientious parent already suspected—too much time in front of a digital screen has a negative relationship with school performance [3][4][5]. Meaning that, on average, students who spend more time consuming digital media perform worse in school than students who spend more time doing non-screen activities [6].
Too much time in front of a digital screen has a negative relationship with school performance.
For younger children (ages 0-5) these findings can have repercussions that ripple into their teenage years. Younger children consuming more than 2 hours of screen time per day can have delayed language development, an increased likelihood of behavioral problems, and attention struggles, which may negatively impact their performance in school. Adolescents consuming more than 2 hours of screen time per day also experienced lower school performance. Quality of sleep is known to have a direct impact on mental and physical activities [6] High incidents of sleep disorders and deprivation were reported among adolescents who over consume digital media.

Excessive screen time can negatively impact emotional, psychological, and physical well-being.

The Bible admonishes, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). The heart is the seat of the soul and whatever we put in it will come out. When we allow our hearts to be overly consumed by irreverent matters, it is only a matter of time before the soul becomes misaligned with God. This principle holds true for media consumption and it's evident in the research.
The heart is the seat of the soul and whatever we put in it will come out.
The foundation for social-emotional well-being is laid during the first two years of life. Younger children who consume excessive media run the risk of damaging this foundation, which should be properly built through rich person-to-person interaction especially by significant others [2]. Adolescents, who already tend to experience great deals of emotional and hormonal change, are at an increased risk for smart phone addiction, which can have similar effects as substance addictions [7]. Furthermore, high cell phone use among adolescents has even been associated with an increased risk of suicidal behavior among younger teens and an increase in self-reported victimization, social isolation, proactive aggression, and antisocial behavior among middle school students [4][8]. Our children are contending with what John Ortberg referred to as a “cluttered soul”. He said, “Our world will divert your soul’s attention because it is a cluttered world. And clutter is maybe the most dangerous result, because it’s so subtle” [10].

Research-based recommendations:

While the above results may seem alarming, it is worth noting that these associations were more prevalent among children with very high levels of screen time. Furthermore, negative risks of excessive media consumption were more strongly associated with screen activities that were non-educational, but were passive entertaining activities [9]. Although research gives us definite reasons to be concerned, it equally provides guidelines that can help make the best of these powerful tools we use every day.

  1. Limit non-productive screen time.
    For children aged 0-2 years, researchers recommend no screen time. Children older than 2 years should minimize consumption to no more than 1-2 hours per day (across all devices) with more time allowed for educational activities especially if adult interaction is involved [8]. Consider developing a family media plan and establishing no-tech activities at home [1].

  2. Remember quality is key.
    Increasing the quality of content students engage with, decreases the risk of negative consequences [8][9]. Ensure media content is age-appropriate, used for production rather than passive consumption, engaging, meaningful, and social [9].

  3. Set a good example.
    Research has also demonstrated that the more parents are engaged in their own devices, the more parent-child interactions are diminished in quantity and quality [2]. Several studies have linked parents’ use of screen time to an increase in poor behavior among their children including: frustration, hyperactivity, and tantrums. When parents break poor digital habits, it makes it more feasible to correct their children’s (Matt. 7:5).

In conclusion, it is worth reiterating that screen time is not bad. It is the quality of screen time that makes the difference. Children still need and learn best from human, hands-on interaction. When used correctly, digital devices have potent potential to improve our lives both now and in the future.

 

Dr. Mike Hill is the Director of Academics at Calvary Christian Academy and the former Head of School at Hollywood Christian School, currently Calvary Christian Academy Hollywood. Dr. Hill is a graduate of Valdosta State University in Georgia. He has a passion for serving the Kingdom of God through education and has served in various instructional and leadership roles in both public and private sectors.

 

References
  1. Fritz, G. (2014). Screen time: A guide for parents. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 30(S6), 1-2.
  2. Zimmerle, J. (2019). Limiting technoference: Healthy screen time habits for new parents. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 34(2), 54-59.
  3. Poulain, T., Peschel, T., Vogel, M., Jurkutat, A., & Kiess, Wieland. (2018) Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of screen time and physical activity with school performance at different types of secondary school. BMC Public Health, 18(563), 1-10.
  4. Kim, M., Min, S., An, C., & Lee, J. (2019). Association between high adolescent smartphone use, academic impairment, and conflicts with family members. PLOS One, 14(7), 1-14.
  5. Felsoni, D., & Godoi, A. (2017). Cell phone usage and academic performance: an experiment. Computers & Education, 117(2018), 175-187.
  6. Twenge, J., Martin, G., & Campbell, W. (2018). Decreases in psychological well-being among adolescents after 2012 and links to screen time during the rise of smartphone technology. Emotion, 18(6), 765-780.
  7. Foerster, M., Henneke, A., Chetty-Mhlanga, S., Roosli, M. (2019). Impact of adolescents’ screen time and nocturnal mobile phone-related awakenings on sleep and general health symptoms: A prospective cohort study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(518) 1-14.
  8. Canadian Paediatric Society. (2017). Screen time and young children: promoting health and development in a digital world. Paediatrics & Child Health 22(8), 461-468.
  9. Barr, R., McClure, E., & Parlakian, R. (2018). What the research says about the impact of media on children aged 0-3 years old. Retrieved from https://www.legofoundation.com/media/1470/1-screen-sense_what-the-research-says-about-the-impact-of-media-on-children-aged-0-3-years-old.pdf.
  10. Ortberg, John. (2014). Soul Keeping: Caring for the most important part of you. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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