Can excessive use of technology in children be harmful?

Maureen Owens with Southern Health-Santé Sud says spending too much time in front of a screen can be detrimental to a child's health in terms of physical and mental health. Owens says a child should not be spending more than two hours per day in front of a screen adding this allows a child enough time in a day still get at least 60-minutes of physical activity and make social connections with others.

"Humans are hard-wired for connection and having connections with other people is actually a protective factor for good mental health. So, you need those connections and, again, if you're spending tons of time on your screen, you're not able to converse with people face-to-face."

Owens says, though more research needs to be done on the topic, there is evidence which shows excess screen time can activate the parts of the brain associated with addiction.

MommyMoment blogger Jodi Arsenault says, in her home, they don't have a specific rule about how much screen time their children are allowed to have, but have always encouraged activities instead of using technology as a babysitter. Arsenault adds she feels it's good for children to be bored on occasion so they use their imagination instead of turning to a screen to entertain them.

"[I think it's best to] find a happy medium and not use technology as a babysitter when kids are young," notes Arsenault. "It's just so easy, everybody has their phone with so if a kid is acting up, just give them the phone, it's really convenient. So, I think it's just being really intentional and that electronics aren't taking away from social activities or family experiences."

Arsenault says she can see how part of a child's over-use of technology could stem from a monkey-see-monkey-do situation where the parent's are modeling a high screen time behaviour and lifestyle. She adds, as a blogger, she can spend large amounts of time on her computer and values the time when she can turn off the screen and focus on other aspects of her life.

Meanwhile, Owens says excessive use of technology and screen time can also disrupt the sleeping patterns of children. She notes not only can it take away from the quantity of sleep but also the quality of sleep.

"The brain is stimulated when children are playing video games and on their screens. Sometimes it's hard for them to wind down and go into a good, restorative sleep. So, those are things parents need to be aware of in regards to their children's screen time."

She says technology does have its place and can be a good educational tool for children when used in moderation and with supervision of parents.

Owens adds children ages 1-2 need 11-14 hours of sleep, 6-12-year-olds need 9-12 hours each night, and 13-18-year-olds need 8-10 hours of sleep to properly function each day.

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