While iPhones, TV and video games are great for distracting children in a pinch, increasing evidence shows that too much screen time can potentially cause childhood depression and increase the risk for attention problems later on.

Is screen time harming our kids?

Information overload

Children as young as 7 are receiving their own cell phones and many 2-year-olds can already work a smartphone — sometimes better than their parents! “My 2-year-old can power up my phone, find his apps, adjust the volume appropriately and power off my phone when he’s done,” says Sylvia Dune, mom of three.

Society has become accustomed to technology telling others our every move and entertaining both adults and children through text messages, constant emails, online games, videos, tweets and status updates. But is this sign of the times harmful to children? The American Academy of Pediatrics says yes. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics links the side effects of screen time to depression and attention problems in children.

Children and technology

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends children spend a maximum of two hours in front of a screen, per day. But a study published in Science Daily says preschool-aged children spend up to four hours a day in front of a TV or computer. According to the study, these numbers have the potential to increase the risk for clinical depression in children as young as 3 and cause attention problems later on.

How to help your kids break the screen habit >>

Replace screen time with block play

Many toy companies are integrating back-to-basic play in their product designs. Tegu, which makes eco-friendly magnetic wooden blocks, set up test labs in kindergarten and Montessori classrooms across the country to observe how children play. “We observe greater interest and attention span when children play with magnetic blocks compared to traditional blocks,” says Tegu product developer Alex Ko. “The embedded magnets enable children to build taller, more advanced structures, while their polarity demands critical thinking and problem-solving. Children achieve mastery more quickly, reinforcing the behavior.”

Back-to-basic play

Many experts believe that the fix is to simply encourage and engage in back-to-basic play with your child. Swap out the Blackberry for balls and blocks and encourage kids to engage in multi-sensory skills that are impossible to gain from two-dimensional apps.

“Physical, block play develops eye-hand coordination and large and fine motor skills, as well as an appreciation and understanding for design and balance," says Vivian Kirkfield, educator and author of Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. “Block play involves the child as a whole because it is a movement-oriented, sensory-friendly and intellectually active creative learning tool that helps children develop vocabulary, math and science skills.”

It’s never too late to make a change

Children learn a lot from their parent’s actions — it’s never too late to change your ways and lead by example. “We have a strict rule about our phones,“ says Jessica Welch, a mom of two boys. “We have set up “phone-free” hours in our house. That way our kids see us without phones and mobile devices and we are reminded to spend more quality time with our boys without unnecessary distractions.”

Are you too tech-savvy for your child's safety? >>

More about children and technology

Mom vs. Dad: Technology and your kids
Kids and technology: Age appropriate guide
Can your kids connect without tech?


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Comments on "Is childhood depression caused by technology?"

Vivian Kirkfield June 26, 2012 | 8:19 AM

Parents are the most important role models...especially early on. Great article, Christina...one that may encourage parents to make a change, if they are allowing too much screen time for their kids. Why not be seen reading a book, instead of texting on a cell phone or watching reality TV. :)

Christina June 25, 2012 | 2:06 PM

Bryn and Emma, thank you for your input! Personally, I agree with both of you! It's way too easy to use the TV (etc.) as a parenting tool, but it's NEVER too late to make a change.

Bryn June 25, 2012 | 11:59 AM

I have friends who strictly monitor their children's time in front of the screen, and others who use it as their go to babysitter throughout the day! I think there can be a healthy balance, but it is awful to think this can affect their mental health later in life.

Emma June 25, 2012 | 11:57 AM

I think it is important to know that it's never too late to make a change and that children will model their parents behavior. If they see you constantly in front of a screen of any sort, they want it to! Get down on the ground and play with your kids, you will all benefit.

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