Health Experts: Kids and Teens Spending More Time Looking at Screens Affects Physical and Mental Health

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Health experts say the amount of time kids and teenagers are spending looking at screens is increasing and it is affecting their physical and mental health.

UnityPoint Healthy Kids Pediatric Weight Management Clinic Wellness Coach Julia Richards Krapfl said in their clinics they’re seeing kids and teens using screens -- whether it is a phone, tablet, TV or computer -- for eight to ten hours per day.

“When kids are spending a lot of time on screens, first of all, they're not up and moving around, they’re very sedentary. They’re not walking around, they’re not moving around and they are not interacting with a lot of other people on a face-to-face basis. They may feel like they have a lot of friends online, on social media, but they’re not having that face-to-face interaction that we like to see kids and everybody have,” Krapfl said.

Krapfl said not only does screen time affect mental health and social interaction, but it also affects people physically: vision, sleep, weight and posture.

“Kids today are coming in and nobody is standing up straight. This includes adults as well, probably me sitting here right now, but we are used to looking down at something that we’re holding in our hands. We really need to be up and looking ahead of us, so if you are working on a computer, try to get that monitor so that your head is not down, so that you’re able to look at it straight on. That goes for kids as well,” Krapfl said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests setting a limit of two hours of recreational screen time for those 2 years old and older.

Iowa State University Psychology Professor Dr. Douglas Gentile said their studies show that limits on content and time make a difference.

“What we found is that at the end of the school year, if parents set limits on the amount and content of screen media, those kids were getting more sleep by the end of the school year, which in turn related to lower weight gain, so they were at lower risk for obesity. Those kids were getting better grades in school. Those kids were more prosocial in their behaviors, as rated by their teachers, which is pretty remarkable because teachers don't know what the families' rules for screen media are, but they see the behaviors in the classroom. And those kids were less aggressive,” Gentile said.

Gentile said it’s important for parents to be a good example and follow their own screen time rules. He added it’s also important to start having these limits very early in a child’s life.

“If you are starting when your kid is 3, it’s just the way your family is by the time you are 15. Different families have different rules for how their kids can behave and they feel natural to every kid because that’s what they grew up with,” Gentile said.

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