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Study Examines Effects of Screen Time on Kids’ Health

High screen time and low physical activity can harm mental and physical health.

By:  |  September 1, 2021  |    518 Words
GettyImages-1234781507 kids and technology

(Photo by Aman Rochman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Over the last decade, young people have increased their use of technology. To keep kids entertained, parents hand them a phone, iPad, computer, or tablet with games, eBooks, or videos. This generation of kids growing up with handy technology is new and uncharted.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the amount of screen time even more. With class through Zoom, lots of students were forced to stare at a screen for about six hours a day, four or five days a week. Will this generation of young people be impacted mentally and physically by their high-level screen use? A group of scientists decided to investigate.

Mental Health

A new global research study of more than 577,000 people between ages 11 and 15 had frightening findings. The study looked at kids from 42 high-income countries.

Screen time was found to adversely affect mental health after just 75 minutes for girls and 105 minutes for boys. Such effects include obesity, unhealthy diet, poor physical and cognitive skills, depression, and a poor quality of life. Screen use included television, social media, and video games. It excluded screen time used for school.

There are some benefits to daily screen use, but those benefits fade out after an hour’s usage. Experts recommend children and teenagers replace time on their tablets and smartphones with physical activity. Reducing screen time and increasing physical activity have been shown to gradually improve boys’ and girls’ mental health.


Balancing ‘Green Time’

GettyImages-1329719945 kids playing

(Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Outdoor or indoor physical activities can help undo the harm that has been done so far. The issue currently is the restrictions due to COVID-19. Children have less opportunity to spend time with each other without technology and improve their social skills in the physical world.

Psychiatrists warn of rising levels of anxiety and depression, saying there is an urgent need to get kids back outdoors, playing sports, and being active. Experts say an hour of physical activity and no more than two hours of screen time per day is a good formula for a healthy lifestyle.

Eye and Sleep Effects

Staring at screens brings eye fatigue and strain. A long time looking at a screen can also cause drying and irritating effects to the eyes. The blue light that radiates from devices when used in the evenings changes the brain’s sleep rhythm; the light sets the body’s circadian rhythm to “daytime,” making it hard to fall asleep.

Physical Health

Gregory Hahn, an orthopedic surgeon at Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital, has noticed a rise in back and neck pain in kids. He says there are two likely causes: heavy backpacks and technology. When kids look at their phones or tablets, they are not looking straight ahead, they are looking downward. Sitting on a bed or floor while working on a device places kids in a hunched-over position with no back support and flexing their necks. Dr. Hahn recommends children sit at a table or desk and raise the screen higher while doing schoolwork to avoid chronic pain.


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