Warnings about the dangers of excessive screen time on children's brains development
Published Thursday, February 16, 2017 7:03PM CST
Last Updated Thursday, February 16, 2017 8:54PM CST
Children that spend excessive time in front of screens – smartphones, tablets and televisions – are doing serious harm to their development, according to medical experts.
“There are over two hundred peer reviewed studies that correlate excessive screen usage to everything from ADHS effects, anxiety, depression and even psychotic like symptoms,” said Nicholas Kardaras, addictions expert and author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids.
Kadaras said a screen stunts development, and watching one raises dopamine levels – the neuro transmitter in the brain most closely linked to addiction.
"Now we’re getting brain imaging research that shows that screen time affects the frontal cortex the exact same way as cocaine addiction," he said.
Winnipeg pediatrician Dr. Grant MacDougall agrees too much screen time can be detrimental.
“We’re actually seeing kids start when they are four months,” MacDougallsaid.
MacDougall, who sees patients out of the Manitoba Clinic, said little kids spending around five hours a day in front of a screen is too much.
"I'll see them at 18 months they are not talking, so I think to myself, do they have autism,” he said.
MacDougall has also seen children struggling with obesity because of too much screen time.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said other problems include trouble building social skills, problem solving and mood swings.
Macdougall's advice: turn off the screens, and play with your kids instead. He said within a month parents will see results.
POWERING OFF DURING THE SCHOOL WEEK
For busy mom of four Jenn Lapkin, keeping the television and tablets off, and kids focused on old fashioned activities is a priority.
"Starting from when the kids were really young, when they had TV early in the day, they would lose their minds," said Lapkin.
Two years ago the family cut out screen time during the school week.
Lapkin thinks it’s important for kids to keep up with technology, but is also aware of a growing body of medical research pointing to screen time being addictive.
Lapkin said at first the transition unplugging was a challenge, and there are exceptions to the rule. Her 13-year-old son goes on the computer for half an hour on school nights. The others can use screens if it's for homework.
SCREENS IN THE CLASSROOM
At Lakewood School, grade four and five students are learning augmented reality, stock motion and math with iPads.
On average they spend about 30 minutes a day on the devices.
The St. James-Assiniboia School Division has about 2000 iPads in circulation for students.
Addictions expert Nicholas Kardaras doesn't think tablets have a place in the classroom. He said students can figure out how to use them when they're older.
“The tech industry has given a false narrative that screens are educational,” he said.
But teacher Nadia Cantafio said having them in class doesn't just give students an edge, it's also instilling healthy living habits.
"If we can teach them those tools early when to take it out, when to put them away. We do talk about at bedtime, ‘are you keeping your cell phone and iPhone in your bedroom? Or are you charging them in the family basket downstairs? Out of sight out of mind," Cantafio added.
"The message to our teachers is everything doesn't have to be with a computer,” said Rob Carnegie, IT director with the St. James-Assiniboia School Division. “At school I don't it's think it's as big an issue as it is for parents struggling with it at home. The time that kids are clocking in, that excessive time is really in the evenings and weekends.”
HELPING KIDS UNPLUG
Julie-Anne McCarthy researches kids’ screen time and promotes mental health.
According to her data, some kids spend as much as eight hours a day in front of a screen.
"Have a look at how much time their child is really spending in front of a screen and then designate specific places and times they will not have access to their electronics," McCarthy added.
She said the most important thing is for kids to have fun without electronics, and recommends powering down at meal time and keeping devices out of the bedroom.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
The Canadian Pediatric Society discourages screen-based activities for children under two.
Dr. Grant MacDougall said three hours a day is too much for little kids.
Addictions expert Nicholas Kardaras said parents should wait until kids are at least 10 to expose them to portable screen time.
Kardaras, who treats screen addictions, said they can be harder than beating a drug addiction, because unlike drugs or alcohol it's virtually impossible not to engage.