Experts discuss impacts of increased screen time on kids

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Posted at 10:47 AM, May 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 11:47:01-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Pre-pandemic, kids across the country averaged more than 4.5 hours per day on some type of digital device. Now, imagine what those look like now after a year of a lot of isolation.

A more recent study even showed that from May 2019 to May 2020, screen time use in kids had doubled from year to year. Now, two local experts are weighing in on what damage could potentially be done with hours spent on screens by adolescents.

The Director of Child and Adolescent Counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, Sissy Goff, says while there's no chance in eliminating screen time altogether, a little goes a long way.

"Even before the pandemic, we were seeing anxiety and depression rise and statistics we're tying it to an increase of screen time," says Goff.

She also says it can tend to negatively impact social skills. However, Goff adds, there are steps parents can take to combat the reliance and urge to stay on screens.

First, be sure to be the example. You won’t be shocked to hear, kids won’t buy the fact they need to take a screen break, if you’re still staring at yours.

Goff advises to try and have dinners where everyone agrees to put their phone down for an hour. Or, agree to set aside specific time where everyone takes a break from their devices for a bit. Take a family walk — whatever works.

Second, she advises parents to have a conversation with kids. Try to connect with what they’re into. For instance, if you’re in the car say, “let’s take a break from our phones but play me your favorite song, what are you listening to now,” Goff says.

Lastly, Goff says to give yourself, and your kids, some grace. We’ve all been through a lot over the last year. She says small steps and victories are important.

It’s also important to note, experts say not all screen time is equal. Virtual learning and playing entertaining video games don’t necessarily hold the same value. But for young eyes, a bit of eye strain doesn’t discern virtual education from virtual gaming; a screen is a screen.

Dr. Anvesh Reddy from Vanderbilt University says, "it can be as simple as taking a break. Some people will mention something called the '20/20/20 rule,' which is every 20 minutes, take a break and for 20 seconds look at an object, 20 feet away. The other thing is after a couple hours... just get up and go outside or do something different.”

Dr. Reddy also adds when kids stare at screens they typically only blink half as often as they do otherwise. So, if your child complains of dry eye, Reddy says it’s fine to use artificial tears.

If you'd like to make an appointment with Sissy Goff, you can learn more here. If you'd like to make your child an eye appointment with Dr. Reddy, you can do so here.