Risks of overexposure to screens among children + How parents and teachers can help

There is scientific evidence that overexposure to screens is particularly harmful to children. Let's understand the risks and what you can do to help

overexposure to screens concept | kids glued to a computer screen
Overexposure to screens among kids increases their risks of physical, mental, and emotional issues

Everyone is aware of the damaging consequences excessive screen time has on our health and happiness. However, because childhood and adolescence are critical times for brain development, the negative consequences of overexposure to screens among children are of particular concern.

Ongoing research indicates that excessive used of screen-based devices may obstruct a child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social development. Youngsters who are addicted to their devices tend to have poorer postures, altered sleep habits, decreased attention spans, and problems with impulse control. Moreover, such kids are more prone to developing issues like obesity, depression, anxiety, and ADHD. The risks of screens can affect even very young children. According to MRIs, kids who use screens experience slower brain growth. That is why public health organizations such as WHO, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recommend that parents and teachers must restrict screen time among children.

In this article, we will try to understand the various possible ill-effects caused by overexposure to screens among children and adolescents.

Overexposure to screens among children: Top causes of concern

Poor posture

Because it encourages extended sitting or slouching in front of the computer, excessive screen time among youngsters frequently results in poor posture, which is one of the main causes of concern. Youngsters frequently slump in their seats or lean over their devices, which leads to ‘text neck’ and improper spinal and shoulder alignment. Moreover, the incorrect posture stresses the muscles and joints, resulting in discomfort and suffering.
Long-term slouching is linked to muscle imbalances and structural abnormalities in the spine.

Eye strain

Children, like adults, can develop eye strain, fatigue, and dry eyes from gazing at a screen for an extended period of time. But in their situation, prolonged screen use puts their eye health at greater risk. Studies show that children who use digital devices more regularly are more likely to become myopic. Kids’ eyes are constantly converging when they are focusing on screens, which ophthalmologists fear may lead to an enlargement of the eyeball over time. Spending more time indoors prevents kids from having adequate opportunities to relax their eye’s focusing muscles, which can lead to myopia.

Poor sleep

Blue light, which screens emit, is known to inhibit the generation of melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep. Without enough melatonin, your child may struggle to fall asleep at nights. The actual content is the next factor. Screens’ exciting material makes it more difficult for kids to unwind and unwind before bed. Youngsters who spend too much time staring at devices find it challenging to fall asleep because they are unable to transition to a state of rest. However, regular screen time before bed may throw off the body’s natural clock, which can lead to sleep disorders like delayed sleep phase disorder. Due to the disruption of the regular sleep cycle caused by this illness, it is challenging to wake up the following morning because one feels sleepy much later in the evening. According to a research that appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics, each hour of screen usage can cause three to eight minutes less sleep per night. Yet inadequate sleep is known to have a negative impact on general health.

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Decreased attention spans

Children who spend too much time staring at screens tend to struggle sustaining attention and completing tasks, both in school and at home. This is hardly surprising because prolonged use of screens overstimulated the brain, which then hinders focus of the child; the fast-paced nature of digital media adds fuel to the fire.  Children are being increasingly diagnosed with a condition called “attentional blink,” where they find it hard to switch their focus from one thing to another.The prefrontal cortex, which is important for attention, decision-making, and impulse control, may be particularly affected by excessive screen usage in children. Even pre-schoolers aren’t immune to the negative effects of excessive screen-time.

Underdeveloped communication skills

Youngsters who spend a lot of time looking at screens may find struggle to recognize nonverbal cues and understand tone of voice, two skills that are essential for face-to-face communication. As a result, it may be difficult for them to comprehend social situations and respond appropriately, affecting their ability to interact with with others

When children spend a lot of time talking online through computers, they may find it challenging to communicate offline in ways like initiating and maintaining conversations or recognizing and reacting to social cues in real-world interactions. Their verbal communication skills, which are essential for future success in life, may suffer from a lack of experience with real discussions or from listening and talking to others in person.

What’s more, children who spend a lot of time on screens or digital devices tend to have fewer opportunities for unstructured play and free time with peers, which is important for developing social skills.

Poor impulse control

Again, the activity of the prefrontal cortex may decrease with the constant over-stimulation from digital devices. So children who are overexposed to screens may have issues related to self-regulation and impulse-control. This is because when their screens are constantly inundated with notifications and alerts and so on, children start to feel an artificial sense of urgency at all times. This also affects their impulse-control. Moreover, the instant gratification and rewards provided by digital devices means that it is evermore difficult for kids to delay gratification, which is an important marker for success in later life .

Risk of obesity

It is hardly surprising that scientific research has found a link between excessive screen time and childhood obesity. This is because kids who spend more time on screens are less likely to exercise and more likely to buy unhealthy drinks and snacks, especially since TV and social media commercials commonly feature junk food advertisements.

Poor mental health

Overexposure to screens could cause an imbalance in the neurotransmitters of the brain causing mood alteration and changes in emotional regulation. Social media posts and online entertainment’s constant over-stimulation and social comparison can cause kids to experience feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, as well as feelings of isolation and a separation from reality. Moreover, content that consists of violence, bullying, and harassment can cause emotional distress among kids. These factors tend to increase a child’s risk of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. In fact, a study conducted by San Diego State University’s professor of psychology Jean Twenge suggests that time spent looking at screens “might have contributed to an uptick in symptoms of depression and suicide-related behaviors and thoughts in American young people, especially girls.

Research has found that adolescents who were regularly overexposed to screens had double the risk of depression/anxiety. They were also twice as likely to need treatment for mental or behavioral health conditions.

What can parents and teachers do to help

In view of the risks of overexposure to screens among children discussed above, there are many ways you can help. Here are a few suggestions

  • Encourage your children to take frequent breaks from screen and devices;
  • Teach your children to look frequently away from their devices and into the distance — will help protect their eye health;
  • Ensure that their child’s workstation and devices are set up in a way that promotes good posture;
  • Encourage them to engage in outdoor activities that don’t involve their smartphones and other digital devices;
  • Make sure kids put their devices away at least an hour before bed; a consistent bedtime routine devoid of electronics can will allow your child to get a good night’s sleep;
  • Set appropriate limits on media consumption to ensure that your children have the opportunity to develop the attentional and cognitive skills;
  • Encouraging kids to participate in activities that help them develop impulse control, such playing sports and being creative;
  • Teach your children the art of mindfulness;
  • Encourage your child to be physically active; restrict access to junk food to help prevent childhood obesity;
  • Find ways so that your children spend enough time with friends and family; this protects their mental health.

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri has spent the last two decades learning, teaching and writing about wellbeing and mindful living. He has contributed over 1500 articles for several newspapers and magazines including The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Statesman, Mid-Day, Bombay Times, Femina, and more. He is a counseling therapist and the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed best-selling book on self-transformation. An award-winning editor, Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".


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