Despite the sunny weather to start the summer season, many students have been spending time indoors staring at their smartphones or favorite video games. It’s a trend psychologists warn could be dangerous for their development.
Psychologists say it’s hard to predict exactly how the amount of time spent on screens will impact children in the future. With a little guidance, parents can help their kids turn an afternoon on the couch into a day of countless possibilities.
Chelsea Ale is a Clinical Psychologist at Mayo Clinic in La Crosse who specializes in behavioral health. She says even infants are starting to use screens "…and spending more and more time in sedentary activity, that’s where it probably becomes a problem," she describes.
Besides for a lack of activity, Ale says kids are also losing out on lessons learned from interactions in the real world.
"I can read your facial cues, I can see you smiling and nodding, and that gives me a lot of feedback and shapes my behavior and the way that I learn to act and as kids, we are still starting to learn that," Ale continues.
While computer-mediated interactions can make it easier to connect with new people, it cannot provide the same benefits as face-to-face relationships.
"We actually see kids are feeling lonelier and more disconnected and isolated with a stronger reliance on social media interactions," Ale says.
With the extra free time students have during the summer, child-care programs like at the YMCA help to ensure they don’t spend it on a screen.
"Unless it’s a very special reason or circumstance, there’s just, we don’t allow screen-time in our programs, our all-day programs," School Aged Administrator for the La Crosse Area YMCA Nate Torres explains.
Instead, they offer new experiences to keep kids occupied in an effort to teach them the opportunities possible on a nice day.
"When they engage in physical activity, outdoor activities, those kinds of healthy activities early on we know they have a great ability to develop a lifelong love for those activities," Torres describes.
Ale continues to say those fun alternatives, similar to the activities the YMCA provides, are a great way to start reducing screen time.
"It’s a lot easier to say yes to a thing we want to see more of, than just to restrict things we are trying to cut down on," Ale finishes.
Instead of cutting the cord on your child, Ale says simple activities like a walk in the park can give your child something to look forward to, other than logging on to their favorite game.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recommends parents limit their kids to two hours of screen-time per day, and no screen-time for children under 2.