As a kid, I would hustle home from school, neglect my loathsome reading, and make a beeline for the TV. It was my addiction, and it began to seriously affect my early reading abilities. Fortunately, my attentive parents began to moderate my television viewing, and my reading made a comeback. I hated being forced to give up TV, but in retrospect, I’m extremely grateful my parents made that difficult decision for me.

Today, a new screen addiction has reared its ugly head, and it’s one parents would do well to monitor: children and their smart devices. I’ve heard parents dismiss the idea, claiming it’s necessary for children to become familiar with technology, as it plays such a major role in today’s society (especially in our careers). Additionally, I’ve heard parents say it’s increasingly difficult to limit screen time as their older children become more socially connected online (and more rebellious).

While I certainly agree that educating our children on today’s technology is paramount to their success, as is developing their social lives, too much screen time can go beyond educational and become dangerous. Don’t believe me? Doctor and author Nicholas Kardaras says it’s easier to treat a drug addict than it is to treat a screen addict. He also believes too much screen time damages children’s creativity.

Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time

Excessive screen time doesn’t just impair creativity — it carries other consequences, too:

1. Impairs motor skills: Children who overuse screens for long periods can begin to show signs of motor skill deterioration. Because they’re more dormant, this reduces their opportunity to fine-tune skills like coordination and balance, as well as necessary skills for sports during childhood and careers later in life.

2. Deteriorates eyesight: Vegging out for hours in front of a screen can negatively affect eyesight, which can affect a child’s education.

3. Induces obesity: According to Hilarie Cash, co-founder of Restart Life Centre, children have innate instincts to explore and move. Screens override that natural tendency through overstimulation, causing kids to sit more. Childhood obesity does lead to serious health problems, and screens are a catalyst.

4. Diminishes social skills: I have a shy child who’s overcoming social awkwardness by getting out in social situations regularly. In contrast, teens who overuse screens might develop tendencies of social awkwardness as the extra screen time causes them to avoid social interactions. (Talking to “friends” online doesn’t count.) These screen-addicted adolescents seem distracted and disinterested, rarely making eye contact. Their social lives will continue to suffer until they “unplug.”

5. Hinders sleep: We want our kids to learn and achieve at their maximum potential, but sleep deprivation can shatter that hope. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that kids who used smart devices at bedtime slept less than nine hours a night — and were more than twice as likely to do so than kids who didn’t. The study also found that children who kept smart devices in their rooms were also half as likely to sleep poorly and three times as likely to be excessively sleepy. Limiting screen use before bed will help kids sleep more soundly.

What Do I Do Now?

You’ve curtailed screen time. Now what?

Parents: Put your screens away, and model a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Younger children: Take them to the park to interact with the world and people around them. Go on family hikes, or walk the dog.

Older children: Gear activities toward their personalities. Are they adventurous? Go skateboarding, or enroll them in sports. Do they enjoy less athletic activities like bowling or chess?

Moderation is the key to most things in life, especially screen time. Make the hard decision to unglue your kiddos from their screens. They may end up thanking you for it later in life.

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