Guest post from Mom Loves Best: Why Excessive Screen Time for Kids is Dangerous & What to Do About It

Today we have a treat for you readers: a guest post from Jenny Silverstone, the chief editor and author of Mom Loves Best, a research-driven parenting blog that aims to educate parents on essential topics such as children safety, health, and development.

 

Take it away, Jenny!

 

Do you worry about the amount of screen time your children get each day?

You are not alone. According to a recent report by Common Sense Media, 66% of parents are concerned about the amount of time their children spend on devices. Surprisingly, 50% of teens agree with them.

While technology can open many doors of information and be used for great good, there are also many risks involved. In a society equally obsessed and reliant on technology, how can parents regulate screen time for kids?

 

How Much Screen Time Should My Kids Get?

Screen time for Kids InfographicExposure to media and technology is an inevitably for all children, whether at home or in school. In fact, it is important for your children to be able to understand and utilize the tools available to them.

However, the dangers of smartphones, computers, televisions, and movies, come when they are overused. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has set forth recommended guidelines for how much screen time your child should have each day:

  • Children under 18 months: Screen time is not recommended for children under 18 months. Babies are unable to gain anything from media, though the AAP says video chatting is fine.
  • Children 18 to 24 months: You may begin introducing media to your child in limited amounts.
  • Children 2 to 5 years: Limit to one hour of supervised screen time a day. Choose positive and educational programming. The AAP discovered this screen time is useful most often when parents watch with the children and explain what they are seeing.
  • Children 6 & older: At the age of six, the AAP suggests parents begin determining how much media is appropriate for their child, setting guidelines and making sure media usage does not interfere with your child’s physical, emotional, or mental well-being. Two hours a day has been generally suggested.

It is important parents not only focus on how much screen time their children get, but also on the quality of media they consume. Parents should watch and discuss media with their children, teaching them how to apply what they see to their everyday life.

The Dangers of Excessive Screen Time

There are a number of risks associated with excessive screen time for kids:

  • In young children, screen time has shown to negatively impact learning development. Because they are focused on the screen, they miss opportunities to interact with parents and participate in creative play, two essential activities for learning language, problem-solving, and behavioral skills.
  • Children of all ages have experienced impaired sleep schedules with excessive screen time, having difficulty falling and staying asleep.
  • Screen time of any sort is a risk factor for childhood obesity, with children consuming over 150 extra calories on average per hour of television watched.
  • The bright lights of screens can cause vision problems, headaches, and irritability.
    Communication and interpersonal skills are inhibited.
  • The longer the exposure to a technological screen, the higher the risk.

 

Cutting Down on Screen Time as a Family

The best way to cut down on screen time for your children is to join with them. Making a goal as a family will help everyone remain diligent and accountable. Here are five tips to reduce the amount of screen time you are exposed to:

  1. Designate “no-screen” areas of your home. The best place to start is the dinner table.
  2. Have a plug-in station at night in a public area. All cell-phones are plugged in to be charged overnight, but not available to use.
  3. Try unplugging an hour before bed if you can.
  4. Use this website, sponsored by the AAP, to create a Personalized Family Media Plan. You can also calculate how much time your family spends on a screen.
  5. Avoid placing televisions and computers in bedrooms.
  6. Find a loud timer to keep track of how much screen time your children get. In the hustle and bustle of life, it is easy to lose track of time. You can also use special routers to make setting time restrictions easy.

 

Thanks for joining us today, Jenny!

 

At Clean Router, we understand how difficult it can be to slow your family down and keep them safe from the negative side effects of technology. That is why we strive to provide you with a simple tool to monitor all of the media in your home.

 

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Why you should turn off the computer and go outside

With spring not far away, here’s another reason to savor the balmy weather. A study from the University of Michigan claims that spending time outdoors improves and restores focus.

 

The researchers, led by Marc Berman,  asked 38 undergraduate students to perform several memory-intensive tasks intended to exhaust their attention resources. After the test, all the students were sent on an hour long walk– half through downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan, and half through an arboretum. When the students were tested again after their walk, those who had spent their break surrounded by greenery performed better than the others.

 

Interestingly enough, the restorative effects of the nature walk were independent of the participants’ enjoyment of the walk. The poor students were sent out for a walk at four different times of year, including January. While the students understandably enjoyed the walk less at certain times of year, the students who walked through the arboretum still got the same mental benefits.

 

If you live in an urban environment, take comfort– even looking at pictures of the great outdoors can provide mental benefits. After demonstrating the restorative effects of spending time in nature, the researchers enlisted more undergraduate students and replicated the experiment. This time, however, the students were assigned to look at pictures of urban environments or more natural landscape. While the students did not benefit from the pictures as much as actually going outdoors, the scores of the students who looked at the nature pictures were significantly higher than the scores of the students who were assigned to look at the urban pictures. So, go outside if you can, but if you can’t, at least hang a nice waterfall picture where you’ll see it often. However, don’t go digital– another study found looking at a plasma screen displaying a nature scene provided no more mental benefits than looking at a blank wall.

 

This study is not the first to demonstrate efficacy of nature in calming the mind. In the late 1990s, researchers at a public housing development noticed that the women who lived in apartments with plants and trees immediately outside seemed to fare better than those who lived in apartment buildings without such landscaping. When the researchers measured these women’s concentration and attention through various tests, they found that the women who lived among the trees scored higher than the other women in the housing development.

 

You can read the University of Michigan study by clicking here.

 

The temptation for kids to come home and slump in front of the iPad or computer is real , especially at the beginning of the school year. New teachers, new classes, new schedules– to say nothing of re-learning how to intellectually engage for hours at a time. Homework and extracurricular activities require kids to recharge in a short period of time, though, so mindless activities are a luxury few kids these days can afford. The best way to beat the after-school slump may be some time outside. Whether your family walks home from school or the bus, relaxes for a few minutes in the yard, or simply does homework on the porch, try to incorporate some time with nature into your afternoon routine!

 

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New research links excessive screen time and hyperactive behaviors

New research presented at Neuroscience 2016, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, links large amounts of screen time during childhood and hyperactivity behaviors.

 

Researchers have hypothesized that a great deal of sensory stimulation can predispose young children to attentional deficits like ADHD. Obviously, ethical considerations prohibit testing this theory on human children, so the researchers had to use mice. The unfortunate ten day old rodents were exposed to six hours of audio-visual stimulation a day for several weeks. After the exposure period, the mice showed hyperactive behaviors, impaired learning and memory, and increased risk-taking behaviors. Additionally, the mice were more susceptible to cocaine, and the mice’s brains had changed in addiction-related areas. To read more about the study, click here and scroll to page three.

 

While these results may seem alarming, keep in mind that not all human children spend six hours a day watching television or on the iPad. However, this information may be useful for parenting kids with a family or personal history of hyperactivity or addiction. This study also highlights how malleable the brain is in early childhood and supports the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for limiting screen time for very young children.

 

Parents, it can be exhausting to enforce screen time rules– especially when kids are on break. Let Clean Router do the work for you! Clean Router will block un-kidfriendly content on every device in your home, set schedules for your kids’s devices, and even put the internet to bed at a decent hour.

 

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You CAN talk to your five year old about pornography– and here’s how

Hey parents– imagine yourself talking to your kids about pornography.

 

How old are your kids?

 

If you’re like most parents, you probably pictured your kids as teens, maybe tweens, shifting uncomfortably in their seats as you talk about addiction, sexuality, respect, and exploitation. There’s only one problem with that plan.

 

It’s way too late.

 

By age fifteen, your teenager is more likely to have seen pornography than not. The average age of a kid seeing pornography for the first time? Twelve years old.  Focus on the Family cites research claiming it’s now eight years old!

 

Parents, if you want to get to your kids first– and believe me, you do– you need to start the conversation about pornography with your kids far before the teen years.

 

How?

 

If you cringe at the idea of discussing prostitution, sexual violence, and addiction with your kindergarten, you’re not alone. If you are ready for the birds and the bees, go for it! If not, you can still break it down for them in ways they can understand.

 

At five years old, kids are ready for a label, a definition, and an action plan:

 

“Pornography is pictures, videos, or words that describe or display private parts of people’s bodies like a woman’s breasts and vulva or a man’s penis. Reading or looking at pornography may make you feel good or excited or uncomfortable, or all of these things. Pornography is unhealthy for your brain, so if you see pornography, look away and tell Mom or Dad as soon as you can. If Mom and Dad aren’t there, tell a teacher or another grown-up.”

 

Your family media rules will also provide opportunities to talk to your kids about internet safety and the power of media.

 

Before you hand them an iPad:

 

“Hey bud, come out here while you play Minecraft. You should always have an adult with you while you’re online.”

 

Explaining media rules:

 

“Pictures, videos, and music can influence our thoughts and emotions, which in turn influence our beliefs and attitudes. That’s why we only allow media in our home that fits with our family’s standards.”

 

 

Turning off an inappropriate movie:

 

“We’re not going to watch any more of this movie because it makes X (drinking alcohol, promiscuity, smoking, being unkind to family members, racial prejudice) look cool. X is really very uncool– it’s bad for Y (our bodies, our families, our minds, society, etc.) because Z (it’s addictive, it causes cancer, it makes people feel unloved, it weakens families, etc.). I know you know X is not ok, but if we watch media that makes X look cool, over time, our brains get tricked into thinking that X really isn’t so bad.”

 

Keep things basic and concrete– anything too abstract will only confuse a five year old. Above all, keep the conversation comfortable and open! As your child grows, he or she will be ready for more information, and you will have laid a foundation by starting early.

 

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4 ways to porn-proof young children (without shattering their innocence)

When do you need to start talking to your kids about pornography? According to internet safety experts, it needs to begin before your kids go online for the first time. Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe fifteen years ago, but thanks to tablets and mobile devices, most kids are using apps and streaming shows before their third birthday. Sure, you might begin explaining the basics of human reproduction to a three year old, but most parents aren’t ready to break down sexual violence, addiction, exploitation, and safe sex at this point.

 

Luckily, you CAN prepare your little children against pornography in an effective and age-appropriate manner. Here are four things you can do– and none of them involve a nitty-gritty sex talk.

 

1. Teach them to respect others’ personal boundaries

Pornography is intensely confusing because it blurs the line between consensual and non-consensual sex. Research indicates that pornography users are more likely to support violence against women and to sexually harass others. You might not be ready to talk to your child about sexual harassment, but you can teach him or her from toddlerhood to respect others’ bodies and boundaries. Have firm rules in your house that no means no, and if someone is not enjoying a certain activity, that form of play stops immediately. If your child develops these values, he or she will be able to recognize the unhealthy dynamics of pornography, no matter his or her age.

 

2. Respect THEIR personal boundaries

Here’s the flip side of respect– children need to have their bodies and boundaries respected as well, even if the activity seems harmless or someone’s feelings will be hurt. Pornography is tricky– it tries to create gray areas where boundary violations and abuse seem acceptable because of who did it or because the person whose wishes were ignored seemed ok afterwards. As a parent (or grandparent, or teacher, or caretaker), your job is to demonstrate their bodies and boundaries should ALWAYS be respected– no exceptions!

 

3.Watch TV with them

Media is unrealistic, and that’s often what makes it fun. Sometimes the fantastic aspects are obvious– dragons, Jedi, zombies, balloons that can lift a house. Other times, though, it’s less obvious– put-downs that don’t hurt feelings, inept adults, implausible romances. Kids need to consume media alongside parents or trusted adults to open a dialogue about what is real and what isn’t. This can prevent media of any kind, including pornography, from warping their developing expectations.

 

4.Kindness counts

This one’s simple: pornography shows everything except kindness. The higher value you place on kindness in your home, the less likely your children will be to perceive a lack of kindness as attractive. Gordon B. Hinckley, a prominent religious leader, once said that love “is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.” This is what pornography doesn’t show– and it is what children of any age desperately need to see.

 

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4 easy (and free!) things you can do to keep your kids safer online

Keeping your kids safe online doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. Here are four easy and FREE things you can do to protect your family.

 

1. Kick all electronic devices out of bedrooms

If your kids are using the computer behind closed doors, it’s hard to where they go and what they do online. The illusion of privacy also can entice your kids into believing online misbehavior won’t have consequences. For both these reasons, the vast majority of family internet safety experts advise parents to keep all computers and mobile devices in common areas of the house.  If your kids know they could be interrupted at any time, they’ll think twice before they go looking for trouble online.

 

2. Check the browser history often

While this isn’t a silver bullet (kids can easily alter the browser history or use an incognito browser), it’s an important first step to keeping your kids safe online. Glancing through the websites visited on each computer, tablet, or smartphone will give you a basic idea of your kids’ browsing patterns. Keep an eye out for gaps in the history (like if you know your kid was on the computer  from 3pm to 5pm, but nothing is listed between 4:15pm and 4:30pm), late night or early morning browsing, or anything that seems odd or out of character for your kids. Furthermore, let your kids know you periodically check the browsing history. This will give you opportunities to talk to them about internet safety and give them added incentive to follow your family’s media rules.

 

3. Give the internet an early bedtime

Even if all electronic devices stay in the living room or kitchen, even the most frequented areas of your house become deserted at night. Use the parental controls on your kids’ devices to shut the internet down at a certain time, or simply turn off the router when you go to bed.

Bonus– your kids will sleep better, since the blue light from their devices won’t suppress the melatonin in their brains.

 

4. Password-protect all your devices

All computers and mobile devices come with the option to sign in with a password, and this barrier to entry can prevent everything from your baby changing your phone’s language to Arabic, your toddler finding disturbing videos on YouTube, to your tween surfing the web before she’s finished her chores. Furthermore, if the kids are home alone, then no one can be online!

Possible exception: If you’re one of the many families who do not have a landline phone, you may want to consider keeping one phone unlocked so your kids can call for help in case of an emergency.

 

If you liked these tips, check out our family internet safety live event here!

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Smartphone-addicted teens have visibly different brains, researchers say

 

Research presented yesterday at the Radiological Society of North America showed that brains of adolescents addicted to smartphones and the internet are measurably different than the brains of normal adolescents.

 

The study, conducted by professors at Korea University in Seoul, North Korea, used a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to evaluate the brains of 19 teens diagnosed with a smartphone or internet addiction and 19 average teens. The goal was to measure each teen’s level of two types of neurotransmitters: GABA and Glx. GABA is crucial to vision and motor control, and regulates brain functions like anxiety. Glx speeds up the neurons within the brain. Maintaining the proper ratio of GABA to Glx is very important for mental health and quality sleep.

 

The researchers found that the addicted teens had higher ratios of GABA to Glx. Unsurprisingly, these teens were also more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and insomnia. As part of the study, the twelve of the teens who were addicted to smartphones attended cognitive behavioral therapy for nine weeks. These teens’ GABA to Glx rations improved significantly after attending therapy, while the teens who did not attend therapy experienced no such improvement.

 

You can read more about the study by clicking here or here.

 

Smartphone and internet addiction is real, and its impact on teens is physical, emotional, and academic. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, struggle with their mental health, and get lower grades in school. The consequences of overusing electronics will affect their entire lives! It’s more important than ever to help kids develop healthy internet habits.

 

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New Research Links Excessive Screen Time and Suicide for Teenage girls

In the most sobering study on teens and screen time yet, researchers have found teenage girls who spend large amounts of time on computers and mobile devices were more likely to experience depression and attempt suicide.

 

The study used data from two nationally representative surveys that followed adolescents between the ages of thirteen and eighteen years old and national suicide statistics from the same age group. Researchers particularly focused on the effects of “new media”– any type of media having to do with computers. This includes some of the most popular forms of media among current teens: social media, apps, gaming, etc.

 

Researchers found that adolescent girls who spent three or more hours per day on a screen were 34% more likely to have a suicide-related outcome (suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts). This number rose to 48% for girls who spent five or more hours per day online. These measures of screen time specifically excluded time spent on homework! In fact, girls who spent more time on homework reported lower depressive symptoms. Interestingly, this study did not find a correlation between excessive screen time and suicide-related outcomes in adolescent boys.

 

What can parents do? According to this study, moderation and balance are key. Depression and suicide-related outcomes were actually higher in teens who reported no screen time than teens who reported one hour of screen time or less per day. This may indicate the importance of in-person socialization for teens, as the study’s data linked social media use to spending time with people off-line. Print media use (books, newspapers, etc.), playing sports, physical exercise, and attending church were also found to predict lower levels of depression and improved mental health. Sadly, this study found that today’s teens are doing more of what makes them depressed (excessive screen time) and less of what makes them feel better (reading, exercising, attending church, socializing off-line). Dr. Twenge, lead researcher on this study, believes this is why suicide rates among adolescent girls have sky-rocketed in the last five years.

 

You can read the study in full here.

 

It’s more important than ever before to keep your family safe online and help your kids develop healthy screen habits. Clean Router monitors all activity on your internet network, blocks pornography and adult content, and helps you enforce a healthy schedule! Try the Clean Router Proven Process today!

 

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Rebecca Black Writes About Cyberbullying in NBC Essay: “It was open season and I was the target.”

Rebecca Black was only thirteen years old when her music video, “Friday,” went viral. A deluge of scorn and mockery followed. Six years later, she opened up about her experience in an essay on NBC: “What I Learned from Being a Target of Internet Hate at Age 13.”

 

As parents, when we read about cyberbullying, our first impulse is to protect our children, to keep them from becoming targets. While understandable, this knee-jerk reaction is unhelpful, because our first impulse should be to prevent our children from becoming bullies.

 

Surely not our children, though. Never ours! And yet, as Ms. Black points out in her essay, “It is increasingly obvious to me that every single one of us is experiencing pain, and trying to deal with it in one way or another.” No matter how privileged or pampered our children may seem, each one has disappointments and hurts he or she is trying to emotionally metabolize. When we don’t properly handle emotional pain, we can’t contain it, and we end up weaponizing our pain and hurting others. Ms. Black calls this cycle “the chain of pain.”

 

When the internet became accessible to all, suddenly all hurting individuals, all of us, gained an outlet. We could rant and rave, mock and threaten, all from the safety and anonymity of our computers. We could tear another person to shreds without ever seeing his face. In a few short decades, the chain of pain has become infinitely broader. Research shows that cyberbullying is more destructive than face to face bullying because the victims can never escape. They open their laptops and find hate. They turn on their phones and are told they are worthless. Is it any wonder teen and tween suicides frequently appear in the headlines?

 

Obviously, we should all keep careful tabs on our children’s digital communications– read texts, follow social media profiles, and periodically check private messages. However, this is the not enough. We must teach our children to end the cycle– to break down and digest hurt, disappointment, and rejection instead of passing it on. Rather than insisting “My child would never,” we need to make sure our children have healthy outlets and coping mechanisms for stress and disappointment. We also need to teach them to intervene if they ever witness or learn of online or offline bullying.

 

It was easy to make fun of Rebecca Black’s music video. The lyrics were uninspired, the singing heavily autotuned. We all forgot on the other side of the screen there was a thirteen year old girl with a dream. She didn’t deserve our unkindness, and neither does any other victim of cyberbullying.

 

To read Rebecca Black’s essay, titled “What I Learned from Being a Target of Internet Hate at Age 13,” click here.

 

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Pornography use predicts decreased religious observance in teens and young adults, study says

Faithful families, take notice! A recent study suggests that viewing pornography leads to lower levels of religious observance and belief in God.

 

The researchers, Samuel L. Perry of University of Oklahoma and George M. Hayward of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wanted to explore “how viewing pornography may shape young Americans’ connection to key social and cultural institutions, like religion.” They used data from the first three portions of a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of young Americans. When the survey began, the participants were between thirteen and seventeen years of age. At the end of the third portion of the study, the participants ranged in age between eighteen and twenty-four years old. For those unfamiliar with academic research procedure, such data is difficult and expensive to obtain and considered the “gold standard” of data collection.

 

Upon examination of the data, Perry and Hayward found that, the more often teens and young adults viewed pornography, the less often they attended church and prayed. The participants who viewed more pornography were also less likely to value religion, perceived less closeness to God, and had more religious doubts than those who did not view pornography.

 

The article reiterates previous research in noting the probable role of cognitive dissonance in these results. In other words, religious individuals who engage with pornography feel the conflict between their actions and their religious values. Such conflict is extremely emotionally uncomfortable, and we as humans either change our values or our behavior to alleviate these feelings of guilt and shame. Unfortunately, changing one’s values is often easier in the moment than discontinuing habit-forming behavior like pornography use.

 

To read the study in full, click here!

 

Research shows again and again that pornography erodes the best of each of us: our values, our self-control, and our relationships. Parents who want to protect their homes and families can no longer afford to do nothing! Talk to your children about online pornography from infancy. Initially, these conversations won’t be about sexuality or explicit content, but about kindness, respect, and house rules for technology use. However, these simple themes will lay a foundation and prepare both the parents and the kids over time to tackle more advanced topics like pornography, self-control, social media use, and more.

 

Talking to your kids about pornography can be intimidating, but it is easier than it sounds and absolutely essential. Click here to read more about family internet safety on our blog and start the conversation today!

 

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