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Effects of Too Much Screen Time

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Spending the whole day staring at a screen doesn’t sound healthy but new research may prove what we already believe to be true. Too much screen time may impact your child’s interpersonal skills and psychological development.

A recent study out of UCLA suggests that too much screen time could be taking a toll on your child’s ability to recognize emotions. The study looked at two groups of sixth graders from the same public school and had them look at 50 pictures of people modeling different emotions. One group then spent five days at an outdoor education camp with no access to electronic devices. The other group was the control and did not change their usual amount of screen time. After the five days were up, the two groups were tested again and this time the group that went away to camp scored significantly higher than the control group.

Researchers believe that without access to screens, the kids who went to camp had more time for face-to-face interactions and therefore got more practical experience recognizing emotions in faces.

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What’s more, a study from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences found that ten to eleven year-olds who spend more than two hours a day looking at screens are more likely to have psychological difficulties. The study also found that physical activity does not discount the negative effect of screen time. That is to say, it is the time spent looking at screens – not the time spent being sedentary – that is impacting these kids.

Not all researchers agree, however, that there is a set number of minutes or hours that is right for all kids. Dr. Benjamin Kramer, Director of Education Services for KLRU, believes that parents need to watch out for when their child reaches a vegetative “zombie” state. “We’ve adopted this approach that says when your kid becomes a screen zombie (neither fully at rest or fully alert) it’s time to move on to another activity.” Considering that children’s brains develop very quickly, it is important to avoid wasting this time of growth.

It is important to note that not all screen time is inherently bad. In fact, a study published in the academic journal of Pediatrics found that the right quality of screen time can actually improve social skills. Good quality screen time will engage your child and require them to think about what they’re doing, not just point and click (which could easily lead to that zombie state).

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Researchers, parents, and teachers are still trying to figure out how to merge education and technology. It seems clear that the technology available today could be used for educational purposes but the study of childhood development is a complex and relatively new field (psychologists used to think hugging was bad for your child and we still can’t agree on whether or not to use baby formula). There’s still a lot we don’t know, but we’re learning that we have to be careful in how we integrate educational technology. Too much screen time is bad for your child, but good quality screen time has undeniable educational benefits, which may become an integral part of our education system.

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