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Live Healthy, Atlanta! Thought Leader Uncategorized

What are we teaching our children by our reliance on mobile screens? Are we modelling “phones as pacifiers”?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

We’re a digital culture and kids born in the 80s and 90s are digital natives. New technology arrives daily, it seems, and much of it vastly improves human lives.

There, however, costs to our connectivity. We carry computers in our pockets these days and we’re surrounded by screens. The amount of screen time we put in each day can have negative effects on our health.

Too much time spent with a screen can harm a child’s social, emotional, and intellectual well being. Adults aren’t immune from the negative impacts of time spent with a screen, either. Your health will take a hit from hours of sedentary pursuits. And if you have a kid at home, your modelling these bad habits will encourage theirs.  Child see; child do.

Diatribes against screen time often veer into moralizing about days past and the decline of health, intelligence, and culture due to our dependence on screens and our foregoing more active pursuits.  Look, there are a lot of people in their 50s and 60s who watched more TV than they probably should have as kids, and most of them have turned out fine. You might be one of them. Albeit the screens of the 80s and 90s were pretty simple, and couldn’t be carried around without a generator and a wagon. Television was king.

Mobile devices mean most of us carry screens with us at all times. When they’re with us, they’re hard to ignore. Think about the last time you sat down to dinner and you and your friend left your phone sitting, face up, on the table, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. When your friend got up to use the washroom, you likely tapped your phone and browsed social media or your email. These behaviors may become new social mores. Is there harm in it? Let’s consider:

Negative Affects of Screen Time on Children and Adults

Weight Gain. You’re not burning calories when you’re seated in front of a screen. You’re not doing much of anything, in fact. Americans don’t have time to waste in front of screens, because we’re not getting enough exercise as it is. The CDC has found that less than half of all adults get the minimum recommended amount weekly exercise. (The minimum suggestion is 150 minutes.) Less than 3 in 10 high school students get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. In 2012, more than a third of kids and teens were overweight or obese. Abandon the screen for something more stimulating – your health depends on it!

Poor Performance in School. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that eight to ten year olds spend almost eight hours a day with a variety of different media, mostly TV. The same study found that pre-teens and teenagers spend more than 11 hours a day with media, again, mostly in front of the TV. The study found that only 51% of children who were heavy media users got good grades (A’s and B’s) while 66% of light users got good grades.

Your Phone is Not a Pacifier, So Quit Using it Like One. Young kids don’t need to engage with screens. Screens may, in fact,  harm their development. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages limited screen time for kids of all ages and recommends kids under two spend zero time with screens. The AAP writes on their Media and Children guidelines page, “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.”

Phones shouldn’t be used as pacifiers for kids. They shouldn’t be used as a pacifier for adults, either, but they are. I’ll try to stop short of moralizing, but let me give a couple examples:

  • You feel awkward at a party where you only know a few people. When your friends mingle, you reach into your pocket and check your phone instead of engaging with new people. 
  •  You’re eating dinner with your family and the phone pings. It’s 8:00 and there was a work emergency they’d call, but you check your email anyway. Then you shoot off a response that in all honestly could wait until the morning. You spend ten minutes at the table with your family, but not truly present. 

We live in a connected world, and there are many benefits this connectivity.   Working in medicine, I see what technology is doing to change and save lives. As adults, screen time limits are ours to set according to what we see fit. We just need to remember that there are costs to time spent with a screen, and these costs are not limited to a sedentary lifestyle.


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