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So Many Screens in MA
Dear So Many Screens,
Yes, it seems like screens are “virtually” everywhere these days, and professional guidelines have become more and more flexible in order to satisfy the need for virtual learning, high demand for social time with families and friends, and so much more. But even with these shifts, of course there are some risks associated with extended screen time, and these risks depend on a few factors.
There is a ton of supporting research that shows how screentime before bed disrupts sleep patterns, mostly due to the blue light produced by electronic devices that signals the body to stay alert by reducing melatonin production. (Melatonin is the natural chemical that induces sleepiness and tells the body to wind down.) Because screen usage stimulates the brain when it should power down, it sends mixed signals to the body, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Children (and probably adults too!) who use screens before bed are more likely to develop insomnia, behavioral issues, moodiness, and more.
While the consensus is clear on screen time before bed, the research on the effects of early morning screentime is limited. Much of what we know seems to come from a small 2018 study out of France that looked at children between three and six years old and found that the risk of speech and learning difficulties was three times higher for children who were watching screens in the morning rather than engaging in conversations with their parents and/or siblings. Your son is much older, however, so language development is likely not affected by screen usage for him.
That said, the blue light signaling mentioned earlier has the same effect on the body no matter the time of day, so if he is excessively using screens before school, there certainly is a level of energy and effort being absorbed in order to engage that may be typically reserved for his schoolwork. It may not seem like effort to him, but this is why many students feel tired in many of their afternoon classes after a morning of watching YouTube videos or social media browsing. They typically run out of the stamina necessary to pay attention and focus because of the earlier excitement that was attributed to screen usage. So in short, if you want your son to be most alert and energized for a full day of rigorous learning, it may be best to avoid screens before learning—meaning you all were absolutely right in your thinking!
“It may not seem like effort to him, but this is why many students feel tired in many of their afternoon classes after a morning of watching YouTube videos or social media browsing.”