Adverse Effects of Screen Time on Children and Adolescents
Published on 4th June, 2019 by Muhammad Haikal Bin Jamil
Due to rapid improvement in technology, children these days are introduced to electronic devices at a very young age. As they grow up, technology permeates in every domain of their life, be it in socialisation, education or leisure. While most are aware of the adverse effects of extensive usage of electronic devices, less is known about the extent of these adverse effects.
Lissak (2018) reviewed existing research on screen time and its effects on sleep, the cardiovascular system, orthopedics, vision, as well as psycho-neurological and social outcomes. While a wide range of effects were discussed, this article will focus on the effects of screen time on sleep and psychological well-being.
Negative Effects on Sleep
The extent to which screen time affects sleep depends on the following factors:
Time of use
Exposure to bright light and blue light emitted by electronic devices can result in dysregulations in the production of melatonin, which is an important hormone that regulates the body clock. Furthermore, the body senses electromagnetic radiation from electronic devices as light. In other words, there is double the effect on melatonin production. In adolescents, the habit of text messaging before sleeping is likely to decrease sleep duration, thereby causing daytime sleepiness and poor academic performance in school.
The literature distinguishes between two types of media – television and small touch-screen devices. For young children, the number of hours spent watching television was associated with irregularities is naptime and bedtime onset. Even passive viewing of television was related to reduced daytime sleep in younger children. In fact, both active and passive viewing of television can lead to sleep-wake transition disorder. On the other hand, the main concern about small touch-screen devices is the emission of audible notifications at night. This can cause individuals to fall asleep later and also wake up in the middle of the night. In addition, young children who use small touch-screen devises also experience increased daytime sleepiness and decreased duration of sleep at night.
Exposure to media content such as video games can lead to increased psychophysiological arousal. This arousal interferes with pre-bedtime relaxation, resulting in delayed sleep onset and shorter duration of sleep. Needless to say, this effect also applies to violent media content. Another area of concern would be social media content. Adolescents who use social media at night had poor sleep and this effect is greater when emotions are involved.
Electronic devices placed in the bedroom tends to increase screen time, especially in the evenings. Studies have found associations between the number of devices placed in the bedroom and delayed sleep onset, shorter duration of sleep, increased resistance to sleep and greater disturbances in sleep.
Increased screen time may displace other daily activities and delay bedtime. Even worse, screen time may replace other important activities such as physical exercise which is beneficial to sleep. Screen time can also occur at the expense of sleep directly.
It is important to note that inadequate sleep can have great impacts on physical and mental health. For youths, their performance in school will also be affected and they are also more likely to encounter difficulties in socialisation. To make things worse, the negative relationship between screen time and sleep is self-perpetuating. This is because inadequate sleep leads to greater fatigue in the following day, which is likely to result in even more screen time and the cycle continues.
Negative Effects on Psychological Well-being
Research have found that overall screen time is related to depression and suicidal behaviour in adolescents. In fact, sleep disturbances tend to occur before the development of depressive symptoms and suicidal behaviour. In particular, adolescents who are overly reliant on their mobile phones are prone to negative mood, self-harm behaviours and suicidal tendencies. They also tend to ruminate about not receiving text messages or replies, especially before bedtime.
This study has clearly illustrated how screen time can have adverse effects in many domains when it is not regulated adequately. Considering the added convenience that electronic devices bring to our lives, it is indeed a double-edged sword. It is critical to have screen time in moderation and regulate the circumstances under which it occurs. It is especially important to monitor screen time and content for children and adolescents, who are more susceptible its negative repercussions, such as poor sleep and increased risk for depression.
Lissak, G. (2018). Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: Literature review and case study. Environmental Research, 164, 149-157. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2018.01.015
Article written with Tay Shi Ying. Shi Ying is a psychology undergraduate at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and aspiring clinical psychologist undergoing internship with ImPossible Psychological Services. She is supervised by our senior clinical psychologist, Haikal.