June 08, 2022 | Tags: Healthy Outlooks

We’re spending more and more of our time logging in, consuming videos and, of course, scrolling, liking and sharing. But excessive screen time can be detrimental.

Dr. Laura Gerak, Clinical Director of Psychology at Akron Children’s Hospital and a consultant on the Medical Mutual Behavioral Health Committee, explains the common physiological, social and developmental issues associated with screen time and tells us how we can strike a healthier balance.

Screen Time and Its Effects on Children

Parents often are concerned about how screen time affects their children’s interpersonal relationships. While gaming groups can foster friendships, children with their nose in a phone, tablet or video game can miss out on physical social time with peers, such as playing outside, participating in sports and talking in person. Practicing in-person mutual dialogue, which happens naturally in many of these activities, is important for younger children and even teens, according to Gerak. Without that in-person practice, children can suffer developmentally.

Screen time has also been linked with decreased attention span, mental fog, trouble learning new information, and issues converting short-term to long-term memory, Gerak said. Screen time has even been associated with risky decision making.

Health Risks Associated with Screen Time

The screen itself is an issue, too.

“Blue light exposure, especially during nighttime, disrupts our natural circadian rhythm,” she said. “It confuses our bodies and suppresses melatonin, which can affect REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.”

REM is important because it’s the restorative part of our sleep cycle. Our restful sleep isn’t the only thing that’s impacted. Whether it’s a result of sleep disruption or increased cortisol levels causing more stress, screen time can have a negative effect on mood, too.

Psychologists are learning more about creating a healthy relationship with technology. Not surprisingly, the pandemic caused a significant spike in our time spent on devices, which made developing a balanced relationship with screen time more important than ever.

Is there any amount of screen time that is healthy? Absolutely. Gerak recommends avoiding screen time for children under age 2. For children 2 to 5, one hour each day is sufficient. For children age 5 to adults, keep device time to two hours a day during the week and three hours a day on weekends. Make the device time intentional and avoid mindlessly snacking while scrolling.

Making Impactful Changes for Your Family

If you’re ready to change how much screen time your family indulges in, Gerak said that making small, incremental reductions is easiest to tolerate and will help you succeed in the long term.

“Set alarms to remind you to get up, move around, take a break and change to a non-screen task,” she said.

Gerak also suggested seeking support from friends who are interested in getting out and doing things. Other tips include keeping screens out of the bedroom and unplugging two hours before bed.

Now that you’ve put your screens away, are you looking for something to do with your newfound free time? Outdoor or physical activity is always a great option, whether it’s hiking, biking, sports, walking or yoga. Creative play like building, art, music or reading are all great activities, too.