Does Too Much Screen Time Make Children Addicted to Technology?

It’s one of the top concerns for parents in the tech age. How much screen time is too much for children? We worry that too much screen time might hurt children, or worse, cause them to become addicted to their phones and tablets. While there are downsides to exposing your children to excessive amounts of screen time, will too much screen use make your child an addict?

No! At least, not according to recent studies.

While excessive screen use may be the culprit for sleep problems, headaches, obesity and behavioral issues in children, the exact amount of time your child spends on a screen might have less impact than you think. Rather, two 2017 studies (see below) indicate that behavioral and developmental problems arise not because of how long a child is interacting with a device, but the nature of the interaction.

For example, imagine handing your child the iPad whenever you need to calm or distract them, or stop a temper tantrum. If this happens too frequently, your child doesn’t have the opportunity to learn how to process difficult emotions in a healthy way. Instead, your child becomes more reliant on the device as they’re being taught to use it as a way of dealing with unpleasant emotions.

So don’t feel too bad if your child goes over the one-hour daily threshold. Simply encourage a moderate diet of high-quality kids videos and content, and be involved in what your children are doing with their screen time to make sure they’re getting the most out of it.

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Want the skinny on those studies?

The 2017 Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University study tested how screen time influenced children between the ages of 2 to 5. While the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests only one hour per day of screen time for kids in that age range, researchers found that allowing kids to spend more than an hour on screens had higher levels of well-being than those who followed the rule.

“If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time,” said Oxford Internet Institute’s Dr Andrew Pryzbylski, lead author of the study.

Last year’s University of Michigan study discovered similar results when it measured screen addiction in kids between the ages of 4 and 11. The study showed that technology addiction depends more on how children are interacting with the devices than the amount of time they spend on screens.

“What matters most is whether screen use causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity,” said Michigan study lead author Sarah Domoff.

For more information on using technology safely and striking a balance for your family, check out our other parenting tech resources on the Jellies blog.

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