How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

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Debra Buszko – Guest Blogger

There is no question that in the last ten years, Apple has changed the face of what technology looks like for personal use, including our children’s. In a recent article, What Screen Time Can Really Do to Kids’ Brains, therapist, Liraz Margalit, notes “Screen time is an inescapable reality of modern childhood with kids of every age spending hours upon hours in front of iPads, smartphones, and televisions. That’s not always a bad thing: Educational apps and TV shows are great ways for children to sharpen their developing brains and hone their communication skills, not to mention the break these gadgets provide harried parents. But tread carefully: A number of troubling studies connect delayed cognitive development in kids with extended exposure to electronic media” (Margalit, Liraza, 2016). The use of technology, as with all experiences, needs to be monitored and age appropriate.




According to Margalit, there is a critical period of brain development from birth to age three in children.  If the brain does not receive the right amount and kinds of environmental stimuli there is a chance that future brain function will be compromised.

When very small children get hooked on tablets and smartphones, says Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine, they can unintentionally cause permanent damage to their still-developing brains.

“Too much screen time too soon is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.” (Margalit, Liraz, 2016)

Bob Groff, Principal of P.S. 244Q, an early childhood school in New York City’s Department of Education finds, “as an educator, the connection to potential problems is clear as early as in our Pre-kindergarten classrooms.   The impact of unmonitored i-pad use is realized in the classrooms where teachers in my school have seen students with shorter attention spans and more difficulty acquiring basic social skills. With the current level of technology that they are exposed to, children are used to instant gratification. Therefore, keeping the attention of children is a constant challenge.  Incorporating regular movement breaks, engaging texts, the use of Smart Boards and other technologies and techniques are a must to keep our students’ attention.”

“When every finger swipe brings about a response of colors and shapes and sounds, a child’s brain responds gleefully with the neurotransmitter dopamine, the key component in our reward system that is associated with feelings of pleasure.  When a child gets too used to an immediate stimuli response he will learn to always prefer smartphone-style interaction that is immediate gratification and response over a real-world connection.” Margalit, Liraz




Mr. Groff continues, “Additionally, there is a negative correlation seen between the number of hours that students spend on technology and their gaining necessary social skills. We see students becoming more easily frustrated when dealing with issues of making friends and negotiating the dynamics of play.  Because children are choosing and allowed to play on the iPad, they have limited opportunities to learn social skills that develop on the playground. How to negotiate problems, make friends and create games together are the real skills that students need to learn at a young age.”

“The brain’s frontal lobe is the area responsible for decoding and comprehending social interactions. It is in this corner of the mind that we empathize with others, take in nonverbal cues while talking to friends and colleagues, and learn how to read the hundreds of unspoken signs—facial expression, tone of voice, and more—that add color and depth to real-world relationships.” (Margalit, Liraz, 2016)

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It, believes that excessive screen time can lead to negative consequences as children grow.  She notes excessive screen time can contribute to childhood obesity, sleep disorders, depression, and academic underachievement.

“If the neural pathways that control social and imaginative responses aren’t developed in early childhood, it’s difficult to revive them later… Playing ‘let’s pretend’ is a creative process requiring lots of personal input. Real play develops initiative, problem-solving skills and many other positive traits, such as a can-do attitude, perseverance, and emotional resilience. It’s vital for social skills, too.  By playing together, youngsters learn to get along with other people. They discover how others’ minds work, developing empathy.  And as real play is driven by an innate desire to understand how the world works, it provides the foundation for academic learning.  Real play is evolution’s way of helping children develop minds of their own – curious, problem- solving, adaptable, human minds.” (Palmer, Sue. 2007)

In spite of the warnings about excessive screen time, the question really is, “How Much Screen Time is Too Much?”  Technology is an integral part of our daily lives and teaching and learning have to reflect those changes.  I have seen many positive uses of technology and positive effects on students in the classrooms.

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Teachers now use Smart Boards, digital camera, computers and I-pads as interactive tools to motivate and engage students in a deeper way.  Students find working with technology more fun and interesting, therefore, more motivating. Students can work on their own learning path at their own pace, research topics and connect with other students both in their community and beyond. Teaching technological skills prepares students for the 21st Century workplace and beyond, a responsibility of today’s schools.

Because the use of media is such a widespread concern, the American Academy of Pediatrics has set guidelines for parents to help them create limits and develop a media plan unique to their family’s values and beliefs and to assure that technology does not displace important developmental experiences including family time, face to face time with friends, studying and sleep.

As in all areas of parenting, there is no “one size fits all” solution. Technology, like any toy or tool, needs to be selected for the individual child and parents need to be media guides, teaching children how to use their devices and monitoring their use.

Families have to look at their children and decide as a family how much time is going to be allocated for media use to ensure the benefits of technology can out-weight the negatives effects.

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