Is digital media impacting children’s mental health?

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of four articles brought to you by Youth Health Service to highlight the importance of caring for every child’s mental health.

In today’s technology age, parents often question how much access to digital media for their child is helpful and how much is harmful. And if you ask 50 different people, you will likely get 50 different answers! To bring awareness to the importance of caring for every child’s mental health, Youth Health Service is joining communities across the country in recognizing May as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

Which brings us to the question: Regarding digital media in light of children’s mental health, how much is too much? Today, screen time happens on phones, computers, televisions, gaming devices, etc. with numerous mobile and stationary options, and for endless purposes.

The benefits for children’s mental health are notable: children separated from a parent or a grandparent living in another state can feel connected through video apps, communication devices and apps can make communication possible for nonverbal kids, online learning tools may aid a child’s academic progress resulting in improved self-esteem and feelings of achievement, cooperative games can promote sociability, teamwork, and ability to solve problems together, and youth experiencing depression, family problems, or suicidal thoughts can be connected to support and crisis assistance.

On the other hand, excessive or age inappropriate screen time can have adverse impacts on child and youth mental health. For example, video gaming may increase anxiety, aggression, impatience, and attention problems for some children; exposure to mature level games and videos may give young people a distorted world view and response to others; youth may become the target of online bullying that increases depression, anger, and feelings of isolation; or digital screen activity can become so all-consuming that kids lose sleep and their screen time replaces family and social interactions.

While it may be unclear whether digital media is having a negative impact on a child’s mental health, the following questions can help caregivers identify potential concerns: Does my child frequently decline play, social and family interactions, and fun activities in favor of digital media? Does my child often lose sleep due to digital media activity? Does my child seem overly anxious or have melt downs if digital media usage is interrupted or delayed? Does my child frequently break the rules around use despite consequences? Does my child have difficulty talking about or focusing on other things? Does my child break safety rules around digital media usage?

For additional information, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines for time limitations for digital media use for different ages, caregiver involvement in their child’s screen time, and developing a family media use plan.

For more information visit www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Announces-New-Recommendations-for-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx> To learn more about services available at Youth Health, visit www.youth-health.org www.youth-health.org or call 304-636-9450.

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