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How Smartphones Are Affecting The Mind And Body Of Your Children

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How Smartphones Are Affecting The Mind And Body Of Your Children

If you’re a parent of young children living in the mobile internet era, it’s hard to resist not handing over a smartphone or a tablet to keep kids entertained when you really need them to be the sweet, quiet little angels you wish that they could be pretty much all the time. There are all sorts of great video and gaming apps designed for kids anyway, so why not?

It’s not the kid-friendly content you have to worry about – it’s the effect of excessive amounts of screen time your kids are being exposed to on a regular basis. The younger they are while their brains are developing rapidly, the more adverse the effects may be. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents of infants and children under the age of two should avoid exposing them to smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions and anything else that serves to entertain people through a screen.

Children who are older may benefit from apps and mobile websites that promote learning, but there’s no question that frequent and prolonged use of mobile devices may create problems in normal, healthy development and everyday habits. Here are some of the things you need to be aware of if you’re a parent who lets their kids play with smartphones or tablets.

They contribute to sleep deprivation.

Any form of media that has a screen emits blue light that tends to mimic daylight in a way that confuses our internal body clocks. Both children and adults rely on their circadian rhythms to regulate their sleep cycles, but when their eyes are exposed to this blue light too late in the evening or at night, it sends a signal to the brain that it’s daytime and that it’s time to stay awake. One study found that infants and toddlers who watched TV were more likely to experience irregular sleep patterns.

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If your child has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, make sure you enforce a strict cut-off time for smartphones and other media anywhere from 1 to 3 hours before bedtime. Instead, use this time to read a book to your child or have them read it to you aloud.

They promote sedentary behavior, which contributes to obesity.

Using a smartphone, a tablet or any other form of screen media generally requires a lot of sitting in order to pay attention to it. All children are energetic and have a natural urge to run, jump, skip, climb, dance and play, which helps them develop a strong and healthy heart, lungs, bones, muscles and brain. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that children and adolescents require a minimum of one hour of physical activity every day, and that one-hour minimum should involve moderate-intensity to vigorous-intensity activity.

To keep your kids from spending excessive amounts of time hanging around the house with nothing to do but sit around and entertain themselves with mobile devices, try enrolling them in extra-curricular activities like gymnastics, swimming, baseball or soccer to encourage them to get moving. Or to save some money, you could even just make a habit out of taking regular trips to the park, setting up a swing set in the backyard, scheduling regular play dates with friends or getting your kids to help out with chores around the house.

They can cause eye discomfort.

Although it’s not currently yet known whether staring at screens for long periods of time can cause any permanent damage to the eyes, it certainly is known to cause discomfort. Both children and adults can experience it, but children may be more susceptible to developing symptoms depending on the unique ways that they use their devices. Commonly referred to as “digital eye strain,” symptoms usually include pain, fatigue, blurred vision, headaches and dry eyes.

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In addition to simply reducing the amount of time that kids spend looking at the screens of smartphones and other electronics devices, parents should take care to schedule annual eye examinations for their kids, teach them to position devices at an appropriate distance from their faces when using them, adjust the brightness of devices and instruct them to take breaks every 10 to 20 minutes that they’ve been staring at devices.

They can cause aches and pains in the neck, shoulders, back, hands, thumbs and other parts of the body.

Smartphone use forces people to tilt their heads down to look at them while moving their wrists and fingers in unnatural ways. Doing this frequently and for prolonged periods can cause pain and even permanent damage to bones and joints in the upper part of the body – especially the neck and spine. According to one leading Australian chiropractor interviewed by The Daily Mail Australia, an increasing number of children and teens are becoming hunchbacks because of their smartphone addictions.

The damage can be worsened by a sedentary lifestyle, so parents should encourage their kids to take frequent breaks and get physically active on a daily basis. It’s also worth talking to kids about the importance of proper body positioning when using their mobile devices and showing them how to lift their devices up higher to promote a more straightforward gaze. Parents can even just tell their kids to use their eyes to focus their gaze downward at the screen as a simple solution to minimizing the need to tilt their heads so much.

They may contribute to shortened attention spans.

Less than 5 percent of children in the U.S. were thought to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) before the early 1990s, but in the following two decades since then, that figure has ballooned to 11 percent, according to the CDC in a report from the New York Times. The rapid increase likely has to do with sociological changes, including how kids use the internet and mobile devices for both educational and leisurely purposes.

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Medication can be used to treat children who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, but even kids who don’t show any signs of the disorder should have strict limitations set by their parents for use of mobile devices. It’s good practice to avoid handing your kids a mobile device to quiet them down and distract them any time they act up. It may be pretty unpleasant to deal with, but focusing on teaching your kids to behave appropriately without technological distraction is far healthier for them in the long run.

They may inhibit the development of social skills.

The American Psychological Association has pointed out that there are currently very few studies and inconsistent findings regarding whether screen time negatively affects children’s social skills. But that’s not to say that it definitely doesn’t play a role. After all, more time spent looking at a mobile device means less time interacting face to face with friends and adults. A UCLA study discovered that overuse of mobile devices among sixth graders had numbed their ability to read human emotions.

In many ways, mobile devices can actually promote good social skills through communication platforms like instant messaging and social media – although not face to face, it can still have a positive impact on children who use it appropriately to support their in-person relationships. Still, parents should monitor their kids’ social behavior and consider talking to them if they suspect a lack of interest in spending time with friends, problems associated with bullying or odd behavior that negatively affects social interaction and relationship building.

They may contribute to higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Children who are old enough to use smartphones and tablets to connect with friends on social networking platforms may be negatively affected by the things that they see and experience. Since they’re still learning about the world around them and where they fit in, it’s common for children to use social media to compare themselves to their friends, invest a lot of energy into posting to impress others, and even worry about getting enough likes or comments.

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A study from the British Psychological Society found that the pressure for teens to be available on social media 24 hours a day and seven days a week was attributed to low self-esteem, poor sleep quality, anxiety and depression.

If you’re a parent of a particularly young child, you should have direct access to their social media accounts and limit the amount of time they can use them from a mobile device. All parents of children and teens should enforce rules about using privacy settings, treating others with respect at all times, and requiring any forms of harassment or cyberbullying to be brought to a parent or teacher’s attention. It’s also worth having regular discussions about the reality of social media so that kids can gain a clearer understanding of how it doesn’t necessarily reflect people’s real lives, and how certain forms of activity can lead to bad consequences.

They may impair brain structure and function.

Numerous studies have shown that excessive amounts of screen time damages the brain by causing gray matter atrophy, compromising white matter integrity, reducing cortical thickness, impairing cognitive functioning and debilitating dopamine function. A lot of the damage occurs in the frontal lobe part of the brain, which undergoes the most drastic changes in the early teen years to mid-twenties, and can affect everything from a person’s relationship building skills to their overall sense of well being. Even children who aren’t technically “addicted” to mobile devices are at risk of suffering damage to their developing brains if they’re regular users who spend several hours a day using them.

It’s time to take screen time limits seriously. According to integrative psychiatrist Dr. Dunckley, parents can eliminate their children’s risk of impaired brain structure and function by limiting screen time to two hours or less a day. She suggests that parents get their kids to do an electronic “fast” or “detox” lasting about 3 to 4 weeks as a way to reset the brain as opposed to moderately scaling back.

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Smartphones have essentially changed the world as we know it, and even as adults, we need to be careful with how we use them. Children, however, are much more susceptible to experiencing more problems. Parents should educate themselves on best practices related to kids and mobile device use, stay conscious of their kids’ habits and work with them find the right balance in using them.

Featured photo credit: Randen Pederson via flickr.com

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Elise Moreau

Elise helps desk workers lead healthier lifestyles. Visit her website on her profile to get a free list of health hacks.

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

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Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

In today’s chaotic world, having family time isn’t always easy. It can get pretty hard to coordinate schedules, especially if the family is large. Life demands that we work, attend school, nurture friendships, hobbies, etc. All of those things are extremely time-consuming and important—but so is spending time with your family.

Why is family time so important? Because we all need love and support, and a good, strong family can provide that regularly. For children, spending time with their family helps shape them into good, responsible adults, improve their mental health, and develop strong core values.

There are many positive effects of spending time with your family. My family and I, for instance (and this includes grandchildren as well), meet every Tuesday night for dinner and games. My older son and I take turns cooking. This gives all of us a chance to try some new recipes. After dinner, we play games. And without fail, they inspire competitiveness and laughter. As family night has evolved, the grandkids have invited their friends over as well, creating the need for more chairs but also expanding our circle of fun.

Aside from the obvious fun and games, there are other reasons why spending time with your family is paramount. In this article, I will provide you with multiple reasons why spending time with your family regularly is a win-win. And then, I will lay out some ways on how to do it.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important

Here are six reasons why it’s important to spend time with your family.

1. Provides the Opportunity to Bond

When you spend time together as a family—talking about your day, your highs, your lows—it fosters communication. As parents, it gives you the chance to listen to your children, to hear them out, to learn about what’s going on in their world. It also provides you with the opportunity to use life situations as teaching moments.

Before our Tuesday night dinner/game nights, my family used to see each other pretty regularly but not consistently, especially the grandkids. Our family night changed all that. Now, it’s guaranteed that the grandchildren, along with some of their friends, will be there. Not only do I get to find out what’s been happening in their lives, but they also get to know us better. It’s creating memories they can treasure forever, as well as modeling the Get-Together tradition for when they eventually have families of their own.

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“Spending time partaking in everyday family leisure activities has been associated with greater emotional bonding within families.”[1]

2. Teaches the Value of Family

Taking the time to be with your family lets your children know they are valued—that spending time together is a priority. I know that in today’s world, both parents are busy as both usually working. What better way to let your children know they are loved than by carving out time each week to spend with them?

According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., “words like honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage are core to centuries of religious, philosophical, and family beliefs. Use them and others to express and reinforce your family values. Teach children the behaviors that flow from these principles. Use quotes to ignite meaningful dinner conversations and encourage kids to talk about these values.”[2]

3. Enhances Mental Well-Being

Spending that quality time together gives your children a safe platform in which to express themselves, ask questions about things that are bothering them, or talk about their day and things they’ve learned. I know that my 9-year old granddaughter can’t wait until it’s her turn to talk about her day. She usually goes on and on and has to be stopped to give everyone else a chance to talk about their goings-on.

“Research shows the quality of family relationships is more important than their size or composition. Whoever the family is made up of, they can build strong, positive relationships that promote wellbeing and support children and young people’s mental health.”[3]

For children, having the opportunity to seek advice from parents they trust—as well as being able to have a sounding board and help with problem-solving—is priceless. In addition, being able to voice their opinions and be heard—and to feel like what they have to say matters—is an esteem-builder. All of these can have a very impactful positive effect on their well-being.

4. Helps the Child Feel Loved

How do you think a child feels knowing their parents want to spend time with them—talking, sharing experiences, playing games, listening to them? It will make them feel as though they are important, and a child that feels important is happier and more apt to thrive. Setting aside chores or work to spend time with your children demonstrates that they’re essential—that they matter. What a gift to give your child!

“If a child has your undivided attention, it signals that they are loved and important to you. This can be further nurtured by experiencing joyful activities together, as it demonstrates that you want to spend time with your children over and above all of the daily demands.”[4]

5. Creates a Safe Environment

If you regularly spend time with your children, you are also creating an atmosphere of trust. The more trust they have, the more likely they are to share with you what’s going on in their world. As they get older, you’re going to want to know. Negative influences can show up at any time, but if you’ve always been there for your child, they are more apt to come to you and ask for your advice.

Spending time together generates familiarity and feelings of being supported. When a child feels safe and comfortable, they’re more likely to open up. This is one way to get to know your child and know what’s on their minds. Are they okay? Do they need your guidance? If so, how?

6. Reduces Stress

This is significant. We all suffer from stress at one point or another in our lives. Spending time with family helps alleviate that stress. It’s an opportunity to talk things out, get feedback, and maybe brainstorm for a solution to the problem that is causing the stress.

According to Brandy Drzymkowski, “During the holidays, your closest five people probably shifts to family and friends. You may even get to see loved ones who live far away. Good news! This can actually help lower your stress levels. Studies show ‘face-to-face interaction…counteracts the body’s defensive ‘fight-or-flight’ response.’ In other words, quality time spent with loved ones is nature’s stress reliever.”[5]

So, now that you know some of the benefits, what are some ideas for making family time happen?

How to Make Family Time Happen

Here are four things you can do to make family time happen and spend more time with them.

1. Family Dinners

This, as I said above, is a wonderful way to spend time together. While you’re having dinner, you have the chance to discuss things that are going on in your lives—the ups, the downs, and everywhere in between. It’s like having a buffer against life’s challenges.

Aside from that, eating dinner together has many additional benefits. Studies have shown that for kids who eat regularly with their families, there is less risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression.[6]

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“Our belief in the ‘magic’ of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals.” It further states, “We recommend combining food, fun and conversation at mealtimes because those three ingredients are the recipe for a warm, positive family dinner—the type of environment that makes these scientifically proven benefits possible.”[7]

According to Parenting NI, “children and adolescents who spend more time with their parents are less likely to get involved in risky behavior. According to studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse via Arizona State University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.”[8]

As you can see, there are multiple benefits to spending time with each other routinely. You can’t go wrong with this family activity.

2.  Regular Movie Nights

This is another fun event, although, from personal experience, I have to caution that choosing a movie that everyone wants to see is not easy. So, give yourselves plenty of time so you don’t spend two hours searching for a movie, and then end up watching no movie at all because the night is practically over. Try and choose a movie before the day, if possible.

Afterward, open it up for discussion. Ask questions pertinent to the movie. What do you think of ABC? Should they have done that? Would you have done something differently? There are so many questions you can ask to spark a conversation and keep the night going.

3. Game Night

This is another occasion for great fun. If you have a competitive spirit, it makes it even more fun. There are numerous games out there—Balderdash, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Charades, to name a few—that can create fun havoc. All I can say is, on game nights, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay if you lose the game. The fun is in being together, laughing, debating, and having a good time.

In addition, “Playing board games is great for children for many reasons besides the obvious; it’s fun to play games! Age appropriate games can help children to think strategically, solve problems creatively, work on pattern recognition and build simple math skills. They also help children develop social skills such as following rules, taking turns, and graceful winning or losing. Additionally, a family game night provides an opportunity for children to bond with siblings, parents and family members as well as peers. It can promote tradition building and establish a fun routine.”[9]

So, go find your family a game and start having fun!

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4. Sharing a Hobby

If you and one of your kids like to do the same things, do it more often. For example, my oldest son and his teenage son go on long bike rides together on the weekends. Not only do they get to exercise, but they also get to talk and look at beautiful sceneries. They’ve also incorporated cooking into their routine. They plan the meal, shop, and prepare—activities that bring them closer together.

Sharing a hobby is a great way to bring family members together. It bonds people in amazing ways. According to Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW, “One of the easiest and most important ways to build a child’s self-esteem is to spend time with them doing something not only that they enjoy but something that you also enjoy. There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. It sends the message to the child that their parents are having fun, true, honest, real fun, with them.”[10]

Final Thoughts

Spending time with the family is an investment. It is an investment in the happiness, well-being, and security of that system. It can also serve as a way to break out of the daily rut and the constant worldly demands, while at the same time, building a strong family unit.

Even though it isn’t always easy to find the time, finding the time is key to staying close and to providing and receiving love and support. There is no greater gift than the gift of time. That’s what we all seem to be missing nowadays. So, in giving that gift consistently, everyone feels loved and appreciated.

The family that takes the time to interact regularly is typically happy. They know they are part of a tribe, and that’s essential in today’s chaotic world. To know that there are people whom you can count on—people who will have your back in times of need—is invaluable.

Now, go and plan something plan with your family, if you haven’t already.

Featured photo credit: Jimmy Dean via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Pittsburgh Parent: Spending Time Together—Benefits of Family Time
[2] Roots of Action: Integrity: How Families Teach and Live Their Values
[3] Beyond Blue: Healthy Families
[4] Esperance Anglican Community School: The importance of family time
[5] Brandy Drzymkowski: Spending Time With Loved Ones Reduces Stress
[6] Harvard Graduate School of Education: Harvard EdCast: The Benefit of Family Mealtime
[7] The Family Dinner Project: BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
[8] Parenting NI: The Importance of Spending Time Together
[9] WNY Children: Family Game Night- The Benefits of Game Play
[10] Child Therapy Boston: The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child

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