Ep. 51: 10 Electronic Device Complications Parents May Wish to Avoid
Electronic device usage has skyrocketed for both kids and adults. There is no doubt that increased technology has improved our lives, but it also has a downside. I have previously shared my thoughts about the increasing electronic device use epidemic, and how it may be distracting during a physician office visit. I also shared ideas parents could consider in order to avoid electronics during office visits. Today, I want to share potential electronic device complications that are becoming more prominent in kids who use excess screen time.
My kids were raised in the 90s when the electronic device movement and constant internet access were just beginning. But kids today are immersed in technology and cannot imagine a world without smartphones, tablets or internet access. In fact, many young kids become frustrated when they are not provided with a free WiFi password wherever they go!
This means that parents today may be the first generation who truly need to figure out how to limit screen time for kids. Parenting during the digital age is hard! The endless use of digital devices for entertainment and academic reasons lead to unlimited screen time.
Because of this growing concern, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended screen time limits to avoid some of the potential electronic device complications:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
Ten years ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation began reporting that kids over age 8 spend about 7 hours on electronic devices. Of note, adults were found to spend over 11 hours per day behind a screen. I can only imagine what a study in this new decade would reveal.
Survey of electronic use in kids during routine office morning
During a recent morning office session, I carried a notepad and recorded my observations with parents and their kids using electronic devices. Just for fun. I wanted to see if the numbers were actually as large as I thought they were.
I saw 16 families. 50% of the parents were either talking on their phones when I entered, texted or interacted with their phones while I was speaking or held their phone in their hands or on their lap during the entire visit. Yes, 50% of parents felt the need to use their phones or have the immediate ability to check it during my 15-minute visit with them.
Anyway, back to the kids.
8 patients were under age 2, and 6 of them used their parent’s phone during the visit. When the phone was moved away from the child, EVERY child became agitated and began swinging at the phone. No child had headphones and all 6 kids had phones with volume up for me to hear the talking. 4 of these parents were also using a phone.
4 patients were between ages 3 and 5, and all used a cell phone or tablet. 2 of them had the volume turned up and became disruptive when the device removed or the volume turned off. I appreciated the 2 who simply sat in a chair as instructed and did not fuss when a parent took the phone away. None of these parents were using a phone of their own.
4 patients were over age 12. 2 had their own cell phones and all 4 parents were on their phones or interacting with them during the visit. On this day, no headphones were used, which I have found can be a problem in teens who won’t remove them to talk. I do not see teens with loud volume devices because it is normal to use earphones. Side note: Young kids and infants can also use earphones!
Also, on this particular day, no kids were noted to have physical books, crayons or toys to play with. I sometimes still see some books, dolls, and trucks brought to entertain kids but not nearly as much as phones and tablets. There just happened to be only electronic entertainment on this day.
So in a nutshell, on a random day when I monitored use, I found it is nearly ubiquitous for my patients or family members to be on electronic devices. This frequent use must be mirrored in society at large and may help to explain the increasing numbers of electronic device complications from excessive use.
What is excessive electronic device use?
Every parent has their own criteria for what they think is excessive use. But based on the recommendations above, I would say nearly all my patients seem to exceed the recommended screen use limits! Especially in kids under age 18 months.
Lots of debate and articles will tell you whatever you want them to say. The internet is like that. It is easy to find articles that support whatever you want and then easy to ignore the ones that do not. Understanding the source of the information is important. Everything is not equal just because it is published on the internet.
For instance, physicians will still tell you that smoking is bad and causes cancer and heart disease. Even though you might have a 100-year-old uncle who smokes 2 packs per day and is extremely healthy. Many people can take that risk and celebrate success, but they understand that they beat the odds. Back in the day, with cigarettes in vending machines and smoke everywhere in restaurants and planes, we did not know the risks. Now that we know better, we opt to reduce our risks.
Finding an exception to the “scientifically-back-rule” should not be your means of making decisions. This same process is occurring right now with e-cigarettes and new limits on JUUL vaping. And of course, the ongoing…might I add…ridiculous vaccine debate. Simply put, vaccines work. They prevent diseases and save lives. They do not cause autism. The science is clear, and one of my colleagues just published an outstanding book to help you better understand it.
My concern is that people need to understand the risks and then make their own decisions. That is parenting 101! Life is always about choices and understanding both sides of the argument. Then, you can make your own decisions and keep it moving. Your child may respond differently than others. But at least you knew the true risks. Risks based on science and research. NOT the risks you learned from a Facebook group or neighbor or friend of a friend.
However, if you never knew the risks, you might feel like you did not make an informed decision. This podcast episode is me pointing out the bad things that may happen to your child…or it may not. Excessive screen time has a real risk of leading to many potential electronic device complications. You need to know this. Please take some time to learn how to avoid dreaded screen time addiction.
Toddlers interact with paper books more than eBooks
Be sure to check out this interesting article about the growing trend of buying eBooks compared to paper physical books. Digital books are cheaper and need less storage space; therefore, their popularity has continued to grow.
However, toddlers have more conversations about what they saw and parents asked more interactive questions while reading physical books. With electronic devices, many of the interactions had to do with how to swipe, tap, or listen to sounds rather than on the story. This finding may impact some of the electronic device complications that I will be sharing.
Some parents feel they are being unfairly targeted for excessive screen time in their kids. Parenting is hard, and screens can be a great benefit in making their lives easier. Yes, screens are easier and loved by kids.
But understanding the research behind some of the recommendations may help to change that sentiment. Healthcare professionals are not trying to make things harder for parents but want to help them focus on activities that spark interactions with their children. These interactions are what lead to improved development in the long term.
Also, how about this article that shares how reading to infants and toddlers is also good for adults? Since parenting is hard enough, why not take advantage of this extra bonus?
10 Electronic Device Complications that have been studied
As I mentioned, the internet is filled with studies that show potential electronic device complications when used excessively. Research shows that allowing children to spend too much time with their screens can cause things such as:
- Obesity: When children are inactive, staring at their screens, they are not burning calories. This sedentary lifestyle can cause them to gain weight. Excessive screen time has also been associated with poor eating habits and other serious complications of Obesity are shared by a pediatrician here.
- Sleep disturbances: Looking at screens before bed can disrupt sleep cycles. The blue light from those screens interferes with the brain’s sleep cycle and can cause insomnia.
- More screen time increased the risk of kids becoming a bully or becoming a cyberbully victim
- Academic problems: Children who spend too much time on their screens have also been shown to do worse on academic testing, especially when video games and TV make up the bulk of the screen use.
- Increased tendency for violence: Children who are exposed to violent media, such as movies, music, and video games, can become desensitized to violence. They may imitate what they see on TV, or even try to use violence to solve their problems.
- Behavioral problems are common due to sensory overload and overstimulation and lack of sleep. Kids often cannot pay attention and think clearly and are impulsive and moody.
- Language delay has been noted especially in infants and toddlers exposed to excessive screen time.
- Vision changes: One of my pediatric colleagues has shared a post describing digital eye strain which happens when kids look at things up close for prolonged periods of time. There is a growing trend of kids needing glasses much earlier due to excessive screen time.
- Mental health challenges with increased anxiety and depression in young kids and teens. It is also considered a risk factor impacting mental health development when parents repeatedly check their smartphones and provide kids with constantly interrupted care.
- Poor brain development….more on that now…
Lower brain development may be one of the electronic device complications in infants and toddlers with excess screen time.
A prestigious pediatric journal recently published an eye-opening, potentially sobering study that all parents need to be aware of. The small study was aimed at evaluating the development of the part of the brain associated with language, reading, and writing. Although further studies are needed, there was evidence of reduced brain development which could impact longterm learning in toddlers who use screen time for more than the recommended times. Whaaaat? Who knew this?
Researchers have found that kids often start using screens before age one, commonly by age 2-3 months old. And now the screens “follow” kids everywhere since they are compact and portable. The amount of screen time in young developing brains has become staggering.
Dr. Victoria Dunckley, a physician and screen time expert, has done extensive research and believes that young brains with excess screen time can show atrophy or shrinkage.
The fact that younger and younger kids are using electronics has the potential for significant developmental concerns that may not be noted for another 20 years.
Of course, all experts do not agree
As I said, there will always be supporting information that you can find to justify your actions. You should take a look at how many people will have this unpopular opinion. As discussed in this article, there are clearly experts who are not convinced that excessive screen time is bad. I include this post to help round out the topic.
But as you search on google, consider how hard it is to find reports of professionals saying they do not think excessive scree time is a problem.
As always, much love for supporting my work. I will be adding many more posts to highlight parenting and healthcare tips, so be sure to consider subscribing to my podcast or to my blog to avoid missing a post!
For something that has enhanced our lives so much, electronic devices have created a new set of potential problems and complications. I hope we have not waited too long to learn how to protect ourselves and our children. Thanks for this timely warning.
As a society that constantly changes, we must forever monitor the impact and make adjustments. I am proud to belong to a medical community that prides itself on making the adjustments needed to maximize our health. I do not ever think we are too late but choose to think it is awesome we caught it when we did. Thanks for reading.