Phone apps have changed the way we live

The average teenager spends approximately nine hours per day looking at a screen, while younger children often spend up to six hours a day engaging with a screen. Technology has changed the way we live, interact and communicate — all of which has significant health consequences.

A group of kids sitting together all looking down at their phones — probably texting the person across from them. A family sitting together, their attention on a device, while stationed in front of the television.

Do either of these scenarios sound familiar?

Screens are all around us — our homes and cars, classrooms and restaurants, hospital and clinic lobbies, and even on gas pumps.

The average teenager spends approximately nine hours per day looking at a screen, while younger children often spend up to six hours a day engaging with a screen. Technology has changed the way we live, interact and communicate — all of which has significant health consequences.

Some of the health-related impacts of screen time include:

  • Obesity due to decreased physical activity
  • Behavior problems
  • Divided attention, which affects learning at a time when kids need to learn to focus
  • Loss of face-to-face social skills
  • Strain on relationships due to distractions

One study sent a group of children to a camp for five days where there were no electronic devices allowed and followed another group of children who lived life as usual. The children at the camp with no access to electronic devices did better at the end of five days in recognizing facial emotions and reading nonverbal cues. The time away from technology appeared to increase social awareness.

And although screen time for children is significant, the same can be said for adults. With so many screens around us, parents simply aren’t giving their kids the attention they need. 

Children have always had to compete for their parents’ attention, but this generation is experiencing something new. Parents may be physically close, but emotionally they’re elsewhere. Talking and reading an actual book with your kids continues to be critical for their language and social development.

Here are some tips on being intentional about your family’s screen time and creating healthy media habits: 

  • Spend time each day talking face to face with kids, and give them your full attention.
  • Put handheld devices away during family times such as dinner or during family-based activities.
  • Set a time at night when handheld devices can be put away, or placed to charge in a common area, and not taken to rooms where sleep can be interrupted.
  • Play a game or read a book with your kids rather than watching television.
  • Encourage periods of time where there’s a break from technology.
  • Help children and teenagers learn to prevent technology from interrupting homework or study.
  • Model healthy screen time habits – your kids are watching you.

Adam Anderson, Ph.D., is part of Mayo Clinic Health System’s behavioral health team in Mankato.

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