I’m pondering a screen detox right now, because screen time is out of control at my house.
I’m pretty sure I’m the only one at my house who would be on board with a screen detox. I’m guessing everyone else in the house would say, “You’re overreacting about the screen situation.” So, to be fair, I decided to look up some research about screen addiction and physical activity as it relates to kids.
Let me be clear right away though – kids aren’t the only ones affected by screen time. Adults fall into screen addiction too. The difference between kids and adults when it comes to screen time, is that kids brains are still developing and so are their bodies.
My friends, siblings and myself grew up in a world where we did go outside and play. We got a lot of physical activity and it was rare to see a kid in my generation stuck in front of a screen all day. Overweight kids were rare and most of the kids I knew played with toys, did art projects or read much more than the kids I know today. Although adults today may be highly into screen time, we still got that early base of a childhood that was more or less free from excessive screen use, which I think helped build healthy bodies and encourage creativity.
Today it’s very different. Kids don’t play outside, don’t get active of their own accord and are hyper invested in screen time.
This said, I’ve looked up some basic info about screen addiction + kids + physical activity so you can figure out if your own household is at risk.
Red flags related to kids and screen time
Your child watches a lot of television: Most research shows that the most appropriate amount of TV screen time for a child under the age of 2 years is no TV and kids older than that should stick to just 1-2 hours a day.
Your child owns many screens: Parents used to worry about TV time. Now many kids own their own computer or laptop, multiple TV sets, cell or iPhones, screen book readers, handheld video game systems and much more. Giving your child every screen opportunity on the planet means you’re making it easy for your child to overuse screens.
Your child has body pains: Tendonitis in wrists and neck pain are both linked to screen overuse.
Your child freaks when screens aren’t available: If your child becomes depressed, has mood swings, or has angry outbursts if interrupted or restricted with regards to screen time, it’s a very bad sign. Research shows these are all signs of typical addiction. In some cases the effects may seem more minor, like a child who races through mealtimes to get back to their game or there’s a deterioration in the quality of their school work or chores or they simply have a poor attention span.
Your child has few interests other than screen time: Kids need a wide range of experiences and opportunities, not simply access to screens.
Your child prefers to be alone with screens most of the time: According to research, kids who are shy, socially avoidant or anxious are considered more at risk for excessive solo screen time and in turn, addiction to screens. Keep in mind that research also shows that screen addictions can occur in even socially outgoing kids. In general, it’s not considered healthy for any kid to spend hours on end in their room staring at a screen.
You’ve got multiple TV sets: Surveys show that half of American children have a television in their bedroom. One study of third graders showed that 70% had a TV in their room. This isn’t good news. Research on this subject shows that kids with a TV in their bedroom are more likely to have low school test scores, sleep problems, weight problems and a higher risk of smoking. One French study showed that boys with a bedroom television are more likely to have a larger waist size and higher body fat and body mass index.
You use screens as babysitters: Recent polls show that 70% of parents use screens to babysit their kids. Not just younger kids either. If you’re letting your kid use screens because you’re busy, tired or otherwise engaged with tasks it can become a problem. Note, parents DO NOT need to entertain kids 24/7. It’s perfectly acceptable to expect that a kid can manage to live without screens or a parent for a while, but polls show that in most cases parents do allow unlimited access to screens unless they’re specifically spending time with them.
Your child needs to be entertained 24/7: Screens do one thing very well. They entertain. Kids who are addicted to screens are often unable to entertain themselves if you take screens out of the equation. Kids need parent time, but they should also be able to figure out how to read a book, do a puzzle or another activity on their own.
Your child can’t make decisions: Something I’ve noticed about kids who use screens excessively is that they lose their ability to think on their own and make decisions. In fact, research on this issue is mixed. In some ways screens do help kids think, learn to read and make decisions, but other research says the opposite – that screens diminish creative thinking. It’s a toss up in the scientific community, but from what I’ve personally seen, the more kids use screens the less likely they are to make even simple decisions in the real world.
Your child used to have interests: If your child used to value other activities and has experienced a loss, such as your kid is no longer interested in physical activity, friendships, family, drawing, games and so on, it could be a sign of screen addiction.
Your child exhibits more extreme behaviors: A lack of interest in personal appearance, neglect of hygiene, neglect of responsibilities, lots of depression, low self-esteem and an increase in personal isolation are key signs of screen addiction.
Your child likes angry games best: Some research shows that kids and teens who bottle up a lot of anger are more likely to play aggressive video games.
Your child seems different: Research shows that too much screen time can actually change kids personalities. For example, some studies show that Facebook can lead to negative brain and behavior changes in kids.
Signs your child is not as physically active and able as he should be
Your child gets almost no physical activity: The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that all kids and adolescents should get about 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per day, every day of the week, but this is low-end. A lot of research suggests healthy kids greatly benefit from even more physical activity per week.
Your child can’t manage basic physical activity: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that all healthy children and teens should be able to walk briskly, dance, swim, or bicycle well on level terrain for an appropriate amount of time (30-60 minutes minimum). If your child can’t manage these basic activities you should be concerned. Research shows that kids who can do the basics may have a health problem that should be checked out by a doctor or the child is simply so physically inactive that their body is not working properly.
Your physically disable child is not exercising: Physical activity is important for all children and a professional with experience in physical activity and disability can help you plan the right amounts and types of physical activity for your child’s abilities.
Your child spends most of his time as a zero on the activity scale: The CDC and other health organizations measure activity on a scale of 0 to 10. Sitting is a 0 and the highest level of activity is a 10, while moderate-intensity activity is a 5 or 6. If you’re not sure what mid-level exercise looks like, kids who are engaged in moderate-intensity activity will have a faster heart beat faster than normal and he will breathe harder than normal.
Your child is often inactive: Research from the Nemours Foundation, among other health organizations, says that infants and young children should not be inactive for prolonged periods of time — no more than 1 hour unless they’re sleeping. And school-age children and adolescents should not be inactive for periods longer than 2 hours.
Your child is overly stressed or depressed: There are plenty of reasons why a kid or teen may be depressed or stressed, but a lack of physical activity is one key reason to watch for. Kids who get little to no physical activity are more likely to have tension and anxiety plus lower stability and resilience to emotional and health issues – for example, if your child is sick often it could be a sign he’s not as physically active as he should be.
Your child misses a key activity: Health organizations recommend varied activity for kids and teens. For example, kids need all of the following, each week:
- Aerobic activity – this should make up most of your child’s 60 or more minutes of physical activity each day and includes brisk walking, or vigorous-intensity activity, such as running, biking, skateboarding, etc. The CDC says your kids need vigorous-intensity aerobic activity at least 3 days per week.
- Muscle strengthening activities – such as gymnastics, light weights or push-ups (also playing on bars at the park) are needed at least 3 days per week as part of your child’s 60 or more minutes.
- Bone strengthening activities – should be done at least 3 days a week and includes activities such as jumping rope, very fast walking, biking or running.
Does my household have any of these red flags?
I looked over the red flags above and it’s troubling. In the screen arena, all of the screen red flags apply to one, two or more people in my house except for the multiple TV set issue (we own just one TV) and no one at my house exhibits major danger signs like a lack of interest in personal appearance or neglect of hygiene. BUT all the other red flags apply.
In the physical activity area, we don’t have a physically disabled child, so that red flag doesn’t apply, but every single other red flag on the list applies to one or more people in this house. Depressing.
Hopefully I can come up with a plan for eliminating some of this screen and lack of physical activity madness.
Images by Flickr Users andrechinn and Wesley Fryer