Parenting in today's ever-evolving world of technology can be tricky. Should you avoid exposing your children to television? Will you let them play video games? At what age should they get a cell phone? Though there are many benefits to technology, its growing presence in everyday life makes it increasingly more difficult to monitor your little one's exposure to the draw of that mesmerizing light glaring off the screen.
Technology Use Among Children
While the debate on how much screen time kids should be allowed during early childhood development and beyond has continued for decades, new research has focused on its impact during the evening hours, particularly right before bedtime. According to a study published in the journal Global Pediatric Health, the use of television and digital devices before bed is linked to lack of sleep and higher body mass indexes.
"Nearly 50% of fifth graders have cell phones."
As the authors explained, numerous studies have already analyzed screen time and its potential health consequences on young adults. Inattention, poor quality sleep and lack of sleep, as well as increased BMIs have been found to be among the negative side effects of extensive technology use.
Today, almost half of all fifth graders have a cellular device, according to GPH. Often this leads to heightened digital use, especially before bed. When children take their digital devices to bed with them, interruptions that impact sleep and sleep quality are likely. Until now however, the effect of this screen time on young children had not been studied in-depth. Thus, the researchers from Penn State College of Medicine focused on the use of technology before bedtime among children 8 to 17. The team chose to study the impact of screen time on three factors: BMI, inattention and sleep quality and quantity.
The Long-Term Impact of High BMIs in Children
According to the American Heart Association, BMI can be used as a screening tool for potential health risks among children. The system uses weight and height measurements to calculate body fatness. Per AHA guidelines, children are considered to be at a healthy weight when his or her BMI is between the fifth and 85th percentile. Those between the 85th and 95th percentile are thought to be overweight, while those above the 95th percentile are deemed obese.
Today, falling in the upper percentile is not uncommon. Nearly 33 percent of American children are either overweight or obese, a problem that can lead to health risks including high blood pressure, asthma, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and heart disease. As the Penn researchers noted in their study, screen time plays a big role.
"Replacing time of activity with sedentary technology use is a means by which childhood obesity is becoming more prevalent worldwide," they wrote.
Lack of Sleep and Increased BMI
The study concluded that children who engaged in screen time before bed got less sleep and had higher BMIs, according to Science Daily. In addition to less hours of sleep at night, those who used technology before falling asleep experienced a lack of quality sleep as well as increased fatigue in the morning. Video games and television were linked with about 30 minutes less sleep at night, while computer and phone use resulted in up to an hour less of sleep per night.
"We saw technology before bed being associated with less sleep and higher BMIs," said medical student Caitlyn Fuller. "We also saw this technology use being associated with more fatigue in the morning, which circling back, is another risk factor for higher BMIs. So we're seeing a loop pattern forming."
So should parents limit smartphone and television use altogether? Not so fast.
In 2016, the American Pediatric Association revealed an updated version of its guidelines for digital media use among children. One of the key ideas from the organization is that parents should incorporate learning and mindfulness with technology use among youth, according to the source. Ensuring that screen time is balanced with other healthy activities is key, as is making certain that all technology use is monitored and educational. Here are the recommendations by age group as advised by the APA:
- 0 to 18 months: advised that screen media is not used.
- 18 to 24 months: choose high-quality programming only and watch with children.
- 2 to 5 years: no more than 1 hour per day of high-quality programming to be watched with parents.
- 6 years and up: strict limits on usage and type of media should be enforced. Media usage should not interfere with sleep, physical activity or other healthy behaviors.
Keeping Kids Healthy
While the information on childhood technology use may seem overwhelming, there are a number of ways to keep your little ones healthy, happy and occasionally connected. By following the recommendations from the APA and teaching good media use practices from a young age, your children can benefit from all that technology has to offer without risking the negative side effects. Consider creating a personalized media chart for each child once they are old enough to understand. This can help them visualize what they are allowed to use and when.
In addition to monitoring screen usage before bed, encouraging your kids to stay active and eat a healthy, plant-based diet is very beneficial. Nutrition is key to early childhood development and by reducing screen time and ensuring their growing bodies are fueled with primarily raw, plant-based foods, you will be setting your little ones up for success. Teaching your toddlers the diet that He so intended for our children is the best way make sure they are getting the essential vitamins and minerals needed to be happy, healthy and energized youth.