Today's computers have changed the lives of children of all ages. While this technology can be an amazing thing to enjoy and use for learning and entertainment, it can also have sometimes unseen effects on your child’s health and development. With awareness and caution, you can help your child benefit from computers while avoiding possible problems.
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Screen Time Statistics
According to a 2011 Common Sense Media research study, even very young children are using computers regularly, with 12 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds and 22 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds using them every day. According to a 2010 Kaiser Foundation study quoted on the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition website, 8- to 18-year-olds spend more than 7 1/2 hours a day in front of TV, video game and computer screens. These statistics persist despite the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics for screen time limits for all of these age groups: no computer time for children younger than 2 and only one to two hours a day of total screen time for 3- to 18-year-olds.
According to Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist writing for the "Huffington Post," sedentary children with too much screen time experience developmental and neurological delays, some of which can become permanent. In addition, many suffer from increased heart and breathing rates, shaking and an overloaded sensory system, which can translate to stress and possibly more serious diseases and disorders over time. KidsHealth mentions another possible physical complaint among computer users due to overuse of the wrist: carpal tunnel syndrome. To counteract these issues, be sure to help your child set limits on screen time and activities, since kids younger than 20 are often not able to do so on their own, and make sure your child takes frequent breaks while on the computer.
Your child could develop more than physical problems from too much computer time. According to Common Sense Media, children's need to learn interpersonal skills is not really possible with the -- often anonymous -- structure of online interaction. Becoming dependent on the computer can also hide real-life problems your child might experience. Additionally, kids who are used to learning at computer speed often struggle to pay attention and control themselves in the classroom, Rowan says. Help your child avoid these problems by giving her plenty of chances to socialize with peers away from the computer and get plenty of play time outdoors which can help her attention span, imagination and learning.
Many children, especially teenagers, who spend too much time online or in other pursuits on the computer have difficulty stopping. Children or teens with a computer addiction can exhibit signs of depression when away from the computer, says Caroline Korr, Common Sense Media's parenting editor. If you notice this in your child of any age, further restrict computer time limits and re-evaluate. If you don’t notice a change, talk to your child’s pediatrician for guidance.