Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

-Proverbs 22:6

Screens are an inescapable reality these days, and that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Some educational apps provide a great tool for children to sharpen their developing brains and hone their communication skills. And of course, screen time can give tired parents a much needed break.

But tread carefully: there are a growing number of studies that connect extended exposure to electronic media with delayed cognitive development in kids. Let’s just look at a few examples.

1. It can affect your child’s ability to read human emotion.

The brain’s frontal lobe is responsible for decoding and comprehending social interactions. It’s here that your child learns about empathy, how to communicate with peers, and how to read the hundreds of non-verbal cues that add color and depth to real-world relationships. So what’s problem with too much screen time? According to this study from UCLA, kids aren’t being exposed to enough face-to-face interactions that help their frontal lobe develop properly.

Let’s compare a child playing on a tablet to a child reading a book with their parent. Rather than having to take the time to process a mother’s voice into words, visualize complete pictures and exert a mental effort to follow a story line, kids who follow stories on their smartphones can get lazy. The device does the thinking for them, and as a result, their own cognitive muscles remain weak.

2. It has a direct impact on childhood obesity.

This study found that for every hour spent on a smartphone or tablet, in front of the TV, or playing video games, children consume an additional 167 calories. Not surprisingly, most of those calories come from high-sugar, low-nutrient foods.

3. Their sleep will suffer. 

Whether it’s irregular sleep patterns or an increase in sleep disturbances (unrestful dreaming or full on nightmares), the research is clear that too much screen time is guaranteed to impact your child’s ability to rest well.

4. It can negatively impact their educational and intellectual outcomes as they grow.

Too much screen time in childhood can have far-reaching effects into adolescence and early adulthood, as this study explains. As your children grow, you may notice an increase in behaviors such as hyperactivity, difficultly focusing in school, irritability, relational issues with peers, tendency to isolate, poor homework completion, less physical activity, and so on.

What can parents do?

As this article explains, it’s all about doling out screen time in an age-appropriate manner.

For example, at no point is it appropriate or safe to expose your infant, baby, or young toddler to any screens. But once a child is over the age of three, feel free to allow limited screen time (no more than an hour each day) to help develop coordination, hone quick reactions, and even sharpen language skills.

“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is helpful.

-1 Corinthians 6:12

As with all the other toys and tools available to your developing child, smartphone, tablet, TV and computer use should stay in moderation, and never stand in for face-to-face human interaction.

The bottom line? Power off regularly to help your kids understand the clear boundaries between the virtual world and the real one.

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