In the modern age, digital devices have become an integral part of our lives. Children are growing up in a digital age, surrounded by smartphones, tablets, computers, and other electronic gadgets. While these devices offer numerous educational benefits, excessive screen time has been linked to various mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and attention disorders. Additionally, prolonged exposure to screens can disrupt sleep patterns, hinder social interactions, and negatively affect academic performance. In this article we’ll explore the effects of digital devices on children’s mental well-being and discuss some strategies to help parents promote a healthy balance in their usage.
Social Media and Body Image Concerns
The rise of social media platforms has also brought forth new challenges for children’s mental health. In fact, a 2022 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information revealed that heavy use of digital devices, including social media, was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems in adolescents. Social media platforms place a significant emphasis on appearance, leading to body image concerns and feelings of inadequacy among young users. Constant exposure to carefully curated, idealized versions of others’ lives can contribute to low self-esteem, anxiety, and even eating disorders. Cyberbullying and online harassment are additional risks associated with social media use, which can further impact children’s mental well-being.
Impact on Cognitive Development
While digital devices offer access to a wealth of information, there are concerns about their impact on children’s cognitive development. Excessive screen time has been linked to decreased attention spans and difficulties in problem-solving and critical thinking. A 2022 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that excessive screen time (more than two hours per day) in preschool-aged children was associated with poorer performance on developmental screening tests. Heavy reliance on digital devices for entertainment and learning experiences may hinder the development of important cognitive skills that are nurtured through hands-on, real-world activities and face-to-face interactions.
Sedentary Lifestyle and Physical Health Issues
The use of digital devices often leads to a sedentary lifestyle, as children spend more time sitting and engaging with screens rather than participating in physical activities. Lack of physical exercise can contribute to various health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular problems, musculoskeletal disorders, and chronic neck and back pain. Excessive screen time can also disrupt regular sleep patterns, further impacting physical health and overall well-being. Additionally, when children spend the majority of their time on devices and not exercising or playing (i.e. on the playground, riding bikes, playing sports, etc.), they are more likely to experience anxiety or depression.
Digital Dependency and Increased Screen Time
Excessive screen time and growing dependency on digital devices among children have become significant concerns. The abundance of online games, social media platforms, and streaming services has led to a rise in the amount of time children spend fixated on screens. Nevertheless, there are recommended guidelines available to assist parents in ensuring that their children and teenagers do not exceed appropriate screen time limits.
The UAE National Media Council recommends the following screen time guidelines by age:
- Infants ages (0-2 years): Avoid all screen time, except for video chatting with family members, which should be limited
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 1 hour per day of high-quality, educational content.
- Primary school children (6-12 years): 1 to 2 hours per day of high-quality, educational content.
- Adolescents (13-18 years): 2-3 hours per day of high-quality, educational content.
Promoting a Healthy Balance: Strategies for Parents
The impact of digital devices on children’s mental health is a complex issue that demands attention. While these devices offer vast opportunities for learning, entertainment, and connectivity, excessive screen time and digital dependency can jeopardize children’s mental well-being. In addition to following the screen time guidelines suggested by the UAE National Media Council, parents should actively engage with their children during screen time and ensure a balanced approach that includes other activities such as physical play, reading, and social interaction.
- Set limits: Establish clear boundaries and time limits for screen use, encouraging alternative activities like outdoor play and hobbies to maintain a balanced lifestyle.
- Be involved: Engage in open conversations about digital risks and benefits, monitor online activities, and lead by example to help children develop healthy media habits.
- Teach digital literacy: Empower children with responsible digital citizenship, online safety, and critical thinking skills to navigate the digital world and protect their mental well-being.
- Encourage offline activities: Foster engagement in sports, arts, and social interactions to broaden experiences, develop social skills, and reduce reliance on digital devices.
If your child or teenager is struggling with cyberbullying or low-self esteem due to social media interactions, or their screen time habits are becoming addictive or impacting their mental health, we can help. At BE Psychology, our team of experienced mental health professionals and child psychologists is dedicated to providing comprehensive assessments that inform personalized treatment plans, ensuring you receive the targeted interventions and support you need.
Contact BE Psychology today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards a brighter future.