OMG, Screens Did What?!

Warning: Excessive screen time may be hazardous to your child’s health.

I sometimes wish that every smartphone, tablet, and laptop would come with that caveat. While this Colorado group is taking action and trying to prevent the sale of smartphones to children younger than 13, I would like to share with you some of the reasons why we should all consider moderating our kids’ technology time.

From TVs to tablets, nearly half of our kids waking hours are spent on digital media, and their addiction grows along with them. While toddlers log about five hours of digital media every day, that amount increases to a whopping nine hours once they’re in their teens.

#1 Physical

All that screen time means they’re sitting still instead of moving around. In fact, digital activities take up roughly 60% of kids’ “play time.” And studies have shown that sitting for too long is very, very bad for all of us. Inactivity doesn’t just lead to weight gain, but also a dangerous cluster of symptoms that include increased blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Why? Working the muscles that keep you standing seems to help the body break down fats and sugars and ward off health risks. Too much sitting — that is, more than four hours a day — increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 125%.

Those studies involved adults, so we don’t really just how much all that passive screen time affects our kids over the long haul. But their digital addiction is harming them in the here and now. And we’re not just talking eye strain, disrupted sleep patterns or the constant distraction that ups the risk of trips and falls. Welcome to a whole new generation of digital maladies…

#2 Posture & Bones

Another problem is text claw. It’s not an official medical diagnosis yet, but anyone who’s spent enough time texting, typing or web browsing knows that the repetitive fine motor activity can cause feelings of soreness and cramping in the wrist and forearm. Think of it as the carpal tunnel syndrome of the digital age. There’s also a more localized version known as smartphone pinky that results from using your little finger to support the weight of your phone. The result is pain and an unsightly indentation between the first and second joints. Not pretty.

But the worst of the ailments is text neck, which has also been dubbed iPosture or iHunch. It’s the discomfort in the neck and spine that happens when you spend too much time hunched over your devices. The slouched look is cool for boots and winter hats, but the angle at which our big heads tilt downward places about 60 pounds of extra stress on the neck, equal to five gallons of paint. One physiotherapist told The New York Times that he’s now seeing “dowager” humps, where the upper back becomes set in a forward curve, in our perennially stooping teens. And size matters. The smaller the device, the more you shrink and contort your body to use it. iPosture can also affect moods and minds: Studies have shown that slouchers have lower self-esteem and are less productive.

#3 The Latest… Cybersickness

Last but not least, there’s a newly identified, clinically documented, increasingly common malaise — digital motion sickness, aka cybersickness. When we view moving, action-packed digital content, or even when quickly scrolling on our smart phones, there’s a sensory conflict between our eyes and bodies, which don’t feel the movement. The result of that disconnect? Headaches and wooziness. Researchers say up to 80% of people show such symptoms, and that females are more susceptible than males. And the aftereffects can linger: A teen who plays a virtual reality game or spends a long session scrolling on his phone could, say, get behind the wheel of a car and have balance and vision impairments similar to being drunk.

What Can You Do?

Set boundaries and limit the amount of time the kids are on their devices during the day. Screens are great as long as they are used in moderation.

Put on the kids’ daily routine some physical activity — it can be a team sport, individual sport, paying at the playground, anything that is getting them off their behind and on to being active;

Be a role model, put your device aside when you are with your children. When you set a good example of using screens in moderation and exercising regularly, most likely your kids will follow you.

And if needed, use parental control tools to help you manage screen time.