14 News Special Report: Peace of Mind: Screen Time Stress

Updated: Mar. 9, 2018 at 1:55 PM CST
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(WFIE) - The amount of screen time your kids are getting could be dangerous to their mental health.

"Having four boys, I have one Playstation in the basement, one in our sunroom and my eight-year-old just asked for one for his birthday because they wear the headphones and play them together," said mom of four, Nichole McClarney.

Like most American families, cell phones, games and tablets are a part of everyday life in the McClarney house.

"I would say the older two are the ones that wake up and have the phones in their hands as soon as they get out of bed."

Nichole's four busy athletes do not have much time for screens, but she still sets limits.

"They'll only have a half hour that they can play and then have to leave for basketball practice. But if it's a snow day or in the summer, I do have to say, you get an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. I don't let them stay on it all day long."

According to mental health experts, monitoring your kid's screen time could be life-saving.

"I'm not sure people understand the depth of impact that screen time is having on kid's mental health. We have a significant increase in anxiety disorders and major depressive disorders beginning in 2011. It coincides with the number of students and Americans in general that have the phone and the screen time," said EVSC director of neuroeducation Susan Phelps.

Phelps said too much technology especially takes a toll on teens. A recent study found those that spent the most time on media devices were more likely to report mental health issues.

"At a biological level, something very different is happening in their brains than children and adults."

It impacts girls more than boys.

"The girls online, the social media aspect, some of the language with each other isn't as friendly as it could be. There's also the fear of missing out so what you see online is not necessarily what's really happening in life."

Not only is too much screen time affecting children's mental health, Phelps said they are also losing sleep.

"On average, our teens are getting two hours less sleep a night which affects attention, concentration, their ability to manage emotions. Teens, all of us, need to be able to reset and get to calm in order to be able to learn and teens never are at calm anymore."

So how do we get them back there? Phelps said limit screen time, especially two to three hours before bed.

"What happens is the brain thinks it's still daytime and it takes them longer to fall asleep."

Encourage physical activity and face-to-face social interaction, recharging minds and bodies.

"We almost think of it as it's ok, you're older now, you can be on your phone more but it should be different, that your time needs to be with peers. The video games do not replace that eye to eye contact. That's not true connecting," said Phelps.

"A basic rule I really truly believe is just moderation with anything. I don't care what it is. I don't mind that they do it but there has to be limitations and there have to be other things they're interested in. It can't be, that's all I want to do," said McClarney.

So, how much screen time is too much? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it depends on your child's age:

  • 0-18 months, avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • 18-24 months, only high-quality programming, and watch it with your child children to help them understand what they're seeing.
  • 2-5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs and co-view media with your child.
  • 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure it does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

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