In this modern-day, most families have access to mobile devices and wireless internet connections. This presents new challenges and opportunities for parents who are introducing media to their kids for the very first time. For our kids, media use can be both a blessing and a curse. Because if left unchecked and unsupervised, children could easily be addicted to using media. 

understanding the effects of too much screen time on children

Read on if you want to know how excessive screen time affects the dopamine secretion in the brain, what too much screen time does to your child’s brain and the physical and psychological effects of too much exposure to media.

Dopamine And Screen Time

Do you ever wonder what makes it so difficult to stop your kids from watching those videos or playing those online games? No matter what you say, kids can’t seem to take their eyes off their gadgets’ screens.

The answer to that is simple. Dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger released from our brain that plays a big role in how we feel pleasure. Also called “a happy hormone”, dopamine increases whenever we experience something pleasurable. 

Now, how does this relate to screen time?

Studies show that screen time use triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, which feels good, but can negatively affect the frontal cortex of the brain, much like the effects of using cocaine.

This dopamine rush can be very addictive. No wonder kids, adults even, find it difficult to put down their digital devices. 

What Does Excessive Screen Time Do To Your Child’s Brain?

Let’s consider this. In a 2017 study conducted by Common Sense Media, they found out that on average, children 8 years old and below already have their own digital devices, be it smartphones or tablets, and that these kids spend at least 2.25 hours per day on digital screens.

We all know that the first 5 years of life are critical for brain development. During these years, it’s important for children to develop their skills by interacting with people and interacting with the world around them through play. If a child is exposed to media at such a young age, chances are, their brain may undergo changes, but not for the better.

Recommended reading: Should You Keep Babies And Toddlers Off Social Media

In a new study using brain scans, researchers found out that the white matter of children who are constantly exposed to media wasn’t developing as fast as those children who didn’t. 

The white matter is the part of the brain where language, mental control, and self-regulation develop. 

It seems that, based on research, too much exposure to media or screen time can potentially stunt your child’s brain development.

What Are The Physical And Psychological Effects of Too Much Screen Time?

Stunted brain development isn’t the only thing that we need to concern ourselves when it comes to our kid’s excessive screen time use. Several studies worldwide have been conducted to learn more about the physical and psychological effects of being exposed to too much screen time. Some of the end results of excessive media use that we will discuss here are Internet Addiction Disorder, sleep problems, eye problems, and digital stress.

Internet Addiction Disorder

Even before the pandemic happened, child psychiatrists have already noticed the increasing number of children displaying signs of Internet Addiction Disorder. But what exactly is Internet Addiction Disorder and why should we be concerned about this?

child exposed to too much screen time internet addiction disorder

According to Wikipedia, Internet Addiction Disorder (also called Compulsive Internet Use, Problematic Internet Use, or iDisorder), is a “problematic, compulsive use of the internet, that results in significant impairment in an individual’s function in various life domains over a prolonged period of time.”

Evidence suggests that young people are particularly at risk of developing this disorder. 

Some studies link IAD to physical changes in the brain structure, particularly in the region of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for attention planning, remembering details, etc. 

Signs and symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder may manifest themselves both physically and emotionally. 

Here are some of the emotional symptoms of IAD:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Fear
  • Loneliness
  • Procrastination 

And these are some of the physical symptoms of IAD:

  • Backache
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Poor nutrition
  • Neck pain

Sleep Problems

Sleep is undeniably important, particularly in children, as this helps in cognitive and physical processes alike. Recent studies, however, suggest that younger children and adolescents are getting fewer and fewer hours of sleep per day. And although there could be a number of factors that may cause this decline, research shows that screen time may have significant involvement in this.

But how does screen time hurt your child’s sleep pattern?

First, screens are quite stimulating. Most kids nowadays have at least one digital device inside their bedroom. This makes it easy for them to access media and quite difficult for them to put it away, especially before bedtime. 

Second, the “blue light” that screens emit can interfere with the body’s normal circadian rhythm or its “body clock”. This light emission during the evening may suppress the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin, and can cause increased alertness, which makes it even harder for kids to fall or stay asleep. 

Eye problems 

One of the physical effects brought by too much screen time is vision problems. And because children are spending more time than ever staring at digital screens, this can take a toll on kids’ well-being, including their eyes. 

Here are some of the effects of excessive screen time on children’s eyes:

Asthenopia or eye fatigue – is characterized by eye pain, headaches, and dimness of vision. Children may lose interest in certain activities, like reading.

Dry and irritated eyes – studies show that people who are focused on a screen blink less often than normal, which causes the eyes to dry out. 

Nearsightedness or Myopia – research suggests that children who spend more time indoors because of digital devices are more prone to develop this condition. 

Digital Stress

Digital stress is caused by adverse interactions with digital technologies such as emails, text messages, social media, chat rooms, etc. In an age where most of our kids’ entertainment is dependent on the amount of time they spend using screens and watching content that is not always age-appropriate, it’s important for parents to devote time to check-up on their children and think of alternative ways of leisure. 

These are some of the signs that children could be experiencing digital stress:

  • Anxiety or Panic attacks
  • Isolation or withdrawal from social activities
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Failing grades
  • Rebellion
  • Unexplained stomachaches or headaches 

Click here to read more on the six ways parents can do in order to encourage healthy digital habits at home.

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