The Screen Time Debate

Screen Time: How Much Is Too Much?
Ari Goldstein, Ph.D.

Look around in any waiting room, restaurant, or public space filled with children who are required to wait for a period of time. What percentage of those children are engaged in conversation or play? How many are reading quietly to themselves? Now, how many are hyper-focused into a screen? What is it about these devices that so engages children and creates this need? To better understand this, we need to explore both the biological and the behavioral underpinnings of this ubiquitous trend.

How many of us, as adults, is guilty of constant engagement with our screen devices. Of course we deem much of it “work”, including our facebook surfing and engagement with a range of vapid entertainment. Who do our children look to as role models for their behaviors?
From the perspective of the brain, screen devices are awesome! They provide fast paced stimulation to the brain, and frequently contain a series of rewards or level development that further engage the brain. This rapid stimulation tells the brain to release more “feel good” neurochemicals such as serotonin.

Parents come in to my office on a daily basis expressing concerns over their children’s constant need to be engaged with a screen of one form or another. This is a double edged sword. Electronic communication is everywhere, and the adults of the future will need to be proficient in their usage and able to adapt with the technology. Children model their parents and friends behaviors, and everyone around us is engaged with a screen of some sort. While as parents we need to manage the amount of screen time our children have, we need to be aware of the benefits of some of the programs as well as the importance of technological literacy. The rule in my home is no screen time during the week unless it is directly related to homework. Then on the weekends we allow our kids a couple hours per day to engage in the screens of their choice. Most of the research done on the subject agrees that less than 2 hours per day of average screen time is not associated with any negative behavioral or cognitive patterns.
Certain forms of screen engagement can also be very positive, and challenge cognitive skills. There are several very good research based online programs designed to develop a range of cognitive skills, including executive functioning, memory, and attention. Many games also require a high level of strategy, planning, and visual spatial problem solving (think Minecraft). Encourage your children to engage in the types of games which require them to focus, think, and plan ahead.

By managing the amount of screen time and the content itself, this entertainment method can become a powerful tool to sharpen your child’s mind and ensure their technological proficiency as they enter adulthood.

At Cognitive Solutions Learning Center in Chicago, we work with children and adult who have been diagnosed with a range of learning disabilities (Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia) and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders. Our approach includes a range of non-medicine based treatments and interventions, and we work with parents to ensure that their children can grow to their full potential.