In recent years, there has been an upsurge in the amount of time children spend indoors using technology devices. Many children spend more time looking at screens than they do playing outside. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day on average watching or using screens, whereas older children spend up to 9 hours. Screen time has replaced meaningful indoor and outdoor play.
Williams points out that overuse of technology can have lasting negative effects such as poorer social, emotional, and cognitive outcomes. Similarly, Gordon-Larsen notes that excessive technology use can create physical changes to the brain that may cross over to adulthood if not corrected.
Too much screen time may lead to sleep problems, weight problems, mood problems, low academic achievement, less time spent with friends and family, and less time learning other ways to relax and have fun. Research has also shown that screen use is associated with family conflict and oppositional behavior. It is also important to pay attention to technology usage in children because Certain & Kahn have found that patterns of active or sedentary behaviors start to establish in infancy and early technology habits carry over from as early as preschool.
Now more than ever before, children need to spend more time playing outside. The increased amount of time devoted to the use of technology is robbing children of time spent outdoors in unstructured activities important for their physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development. Unstructured outdoor play can reduce screen time while providing benefits to child development. Deaver and Wright point out that when children spend time outdoors in free play, they become more active, which influences their physical development, social and emotional development, interactivity between peers, and encourages positive academic outcomes. Spending time outdoors exposed to sunlight, fresh air, and other natural components provides a boost in mood. Play also down-regulates the body’s stress response and builds resiliency and confidence.
We cannot always control the amount of technology that our students use, especially outside of school hours, but by making more time for our students to get outside, we can counter some of the negative effects that can come with excessive technology use.