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'Stuck on media': Increased digital media usage could lead to ADHD, less creativity in children

How much screen time is too much? As high-tech gadgets grow in popularity, more children are increasing their daily screen time, or the amount of time spent on electronic devices such as tablets or smartphones. And one local pediatrician says thi...

(Daily Republic Illustration)
(Daily Republic Illustration)

How much screen time is too much?

As high-tech gadgets grow in popularity, more children are increasing their daily screen time, or the amount of time spent on electronic devices such as tablets or smartphones. And one local pediatrician says this is negatively impacting the child's health.

Today's children and adolescents have grown up surrounded by media, whether they are video-chatting, playing video games or using social apps. And according to Jesse Barondeau, a pediatrician with Avera Queen of Peace in Mitchell, all of this technology could increase children's risk of other medical ailments such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

While technology might make it easier for children to access more "educational and positive learning experiences," Barondeau said a lot of screen time is not good for a child's developing mind.

"There's evidence that age just can't handle it," Barondaeu said. "Even 2- and 3-year-olds, if they're watching more than hour of TV per day, there's a lot of not appropriate content and there's a lot of evidence that children could have difficulty with impulse control or temper control when they're older and they might also be less creative."

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These types of behaviors - impulse control, temper control and creativity - are typically learned while playing with toys, going outside and socializing with other children, he said.

In late 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced new recommendations for children's media use, which included cutting screen media in children younger than 18 months. For parents who wanted to introduce digital media to 18 to 24-months-of-age, the AAP recommended watching high-quality programming with their children, to ensure they understand what they are watching.

The AAP also recommends for children 2 to 5 years old, media usage should be approximately one hour per day, with parents watching alongside.

And Barondeau agrees.

Barondeau recommends, for children 3 to 5 years old, an appropriate amount of media would be about one hour per day, while children older than that could use up to two hours each day.

"Their minds would be healthier and it will help their bodies if they're playing outside or coloring, writing and playing with toys," Barondeau said. "They can use their imagination and be more creative and build social abilities as well."

Obesity, lack of sleep and the media

As children get older, Barondeau said technology and increased screen time has different effects.

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Middle school through high school children who watch more than two hours per day could face problems related to obesity, Barondeau said. The children will tend to be on the computer or TV for hours on end, which can be linked to obesity and a more sedentary lifestyle, he said.

On top of obesity, the children could see impacts on their sleep patterns. When they watch a lot of TV, sleep can become more difficult.

Barondeau references the "blue light" that children will find, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This "blue light," Barondeau said, is a natural mechanism for releasing melatonin into the body.

Finding a solution

Barondeau started as a pediatrician in Mitchell last August, moving from Tacoma, Washington.

While Barondeau said it's not any different in Mitchell, he has noticed similar trends. This includes seeing a rise in media usage during the winter months, while in the summer usage drops, as kids tend to do more outdoor activities.

Barondeau said he also noticed that if children aren't involved in any extracurricular activities in school, such as band or sports, they tend to spend more time playing video games or watching TV.

To fight the issue of growing media usage in children, Barondeau said he tries to put out his own recommendations for a health lifestyle during yearly check-ups. And he's noticed that parents are starting to get concerned as well.

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"They'll have concerns if they believe their kids are spending too much time on the computer," Barondeau said. "The one thing that is important factor, a lot of it reflects on what the parents do."

To avoid this problem, Barondeau said parents should stick to the daily recommendation for one or two hours each day, depending on the child's age. But he also recommends that any apps that children use, parents do some research about whether they are age-appropriate as well as educational. One app that Barondeau recommends is the Sesame Workshop, which is proven to provide high-quality programming and educational material, he said.

"Just be careful of what types of apps you find, "Barondeau said. "There are a lot of educational apps that appear to be good for kids, but they haven't been assessed if they are good or not."

Barondeau also recommends finding coloring books, blocks or other toys similar to help with a child's development growth and avoid using electronic devices when possible. This will also help children pay better attention in school, Barondeau said.

The AAP also suggests parents utilize digital content provided by Sesame Workshop, along with PBS, as it has proven educational value, according to a recent press release.

The AAP also recommends placing consistent limits on the time spent using media and the types of media. This includes designating media-free times together, according to the AAP, such as during dinner or driving. The organization also recommends designating media-free locations in the home, such as a bedroom.

"There are so many different avenues for media now," Barondeau said. "It's ever increasing ways to get to it and it's easier. It's everywhere. Its very easy to be stuck on media if you want to."

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