How might screens impact a child’s sleep?
As humans, our circadian rhythms and our production of melatonin — the sleep hormone — kicks in when the sun sets. But the blue light from screens inhibits melatonin, which can delay sleep. And watching TV or playing games also keeps our brains and bodies more alert and activated and less ready for sleep. (Tablets and smartphones will suppress the melatonin more than TVs because the screen, and that blue light, is closer to the face.)
According to one study, infants 6 to 12 months old who were exposed to screens in the evening showed significantly shorter nighttime sleep than those who had no evening screen exposure.
For preteens and teenagers, excessive use of screens late at night will affect their sleep, and keeping screens out of the bedroom is advised. Too much time spent on social media as well as lack of sleep can affect behavior and cognitive performance in school and interfere with learning. It has also been shown that excessive screen time and sleep deprivation are linked to obesity, which in turn can affect self-esteem and lead to social isolation and more screen time.
How addictive can digital screens be for young kids?
The problem with mobile devices is that they draw you in, and as we all know it’s easy to waste time surfing the internet. They are also so portable and ubiquitous that we cannot manage without them. As adults, we understand some of the drawbacks and make a conscious decision to put the phone down, but for 2- or 3-year-olds, who don’t have any understanding of these concerns, if they have been exposed to the phone/tablet since infancy, it becomes their norm and they want to do more of it.
We should also be careful of relying on using screens to distract a child from a problem rather than having them figure it out and learn to resolve it themselves. Using a favorite song to distract a young child who has just fallen and scraped their knee might be OK, but having the parent comfort and cuddle with the child and talk to them is better. Using screen time to distract young children who are having trouble sharing a toy will not help them learn how to share and take turns in the future, although it may be a quick fix in the short term.
Are some screens worse than others?
Television isn’t as bad as it was once perceived to be as it can be controlled more easily and stays in one place. Tablets and smartphones are much more accessible because they’re portable. You can take them anywhere and use them at any time.
I believe YouTube is generally bad for young children. If left to their own devices, children are often better than their parents at finding their favorite videos that link to other videos and can lead to hours of watching endless clips. The largely unregulated nature of the site allows children to watch almost anything; at best there is little educational value, and at worst it can be violent or inappropriate content. Again, the best course of action is to watch with the child so the parent is engaged in finding content that is appropriate and educational.