“Can I watch just one more episode?”
“Fifteen more minutes?”
“Can I just finish this level?”
Do these questions sound familiar? To most American families, the answer is probably yes.
On average, American children spend between seven and eight hours in front of some kind of screen each day. (Media and Children) Compare that to the utter lack of television back in the day and the increase in obesity and obesity related illness in children is no surprise.
Another slightly less discussed but equally as distressing trend is the increase in childhood depression and ADHD.
Could there be a link? Some experts believe so. Here’s why:
Most screens use something called “LED lighting.” The exposure to LED lights has been proven to inhibit the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone known for its’ role in sleep regulation.
With a lack of melatonin, the body struggles to enter a state of restorative sleep. This lack of restorative sleep leaves the body in a perpetually weakened state, rendering it less effective in several important physiological activities.(Thakkar)
For example, without sleep, the body becomes less proficient in synthesizing serotonin, a hormone used in regulation of emotion and mental focus. (Ursin)
An inability to efficiently produce a hormone critical in mood stabilization and focus is bound to have profound effects on a child’s mental health. To be more specific, this lack of serotonin could lead to a higher incidence of depression and ADHD (This, in addition to the more obvious effects of a sedentary lifestyle, like joint weakness, obesity and obesity related illness).(Oades)
So not only do television shows and video games contribute to short attention span with their highly stimulating sound-bites and remarkably quick scene changes, they also contribute to actual physiological changes that reduce our attentional control.
On the flip side, regularly engaging the body in moderate physical activity is linked to an increase in domaminergic activity, something that helps keep us focused and happy
Not only that, the deliberate and meaningful use of the body throughout the day is related to better, more restful sleep and an increase in the efficiency of the body’s metabolic system. That means better absorption of important vitamins and nutrients as well as an overall decrease in the likelihood of rapid weight gain. (Wang)
To summarize, screen time can mean less restorative sleep and a laundry list of physical and mental health problems.
More play means better metabolism, better sleep and a healthier, happier kiddo.
In several cases, parents just don’t know what to do when it comes to family exercise. For starters, you may want to check out our post on fun ways to keep your family healthy. You can also find specific activity suggestions and an assortment of stats and other information in our Parent Resource from “Let’s Play Together 2013”.