Children younger than 18 throughout the metropolitan area are logging substantial amounts of time on electronic devices with 65% riveted to screens in excess of three hours daily and 22% glued to devices for more than five hours a day, a new public health poll has found.
The attraction: Games, cartoons, texting, chatting, surfing – immersion into cyberspace.
“As a paediatrician I was aware that kids were spending time on these devices, but it is really shocking to me to see the number of hours that were found in this poll,” said Dr Warren Rosenfeld, chairman of paediatrics at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York.
The survey, commissioned by South Nassau, found that children on Long Island and in New York City are spending an average of 3.41 hours per day of non-academic screen time with devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions. The phone survey of 600 parents of children younger than 18 was conducted for the hospital April 9-12 by LJR Custom Strategies, a professional polling corporation with offices in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.
Children, the poll found, have distinct preferences about the types of devices they use.
Seven percent use a desk or laptop computer as their primary screen. More than 90% preferred logging time on smartphones, tablets or sitting in front of a TV, the poll revealed.
Details of the survey were to be discussed at the hospital.
“Human contact is lost when too much time is spent with a device,” Rosenfeld said. “They are not outdoors running, playing and enjoying the 3-dimensional world.”
Instead, some youngsters are becoming too focused on activities involving 2-dimensional images emanating from devices, and parents are not doing enough to wean their kids from the cyberworld, Rosenfeld said.
The American Academy of Paediatrics in 2016 cautioned that too much screen time – especially in young children – can delay cognitive, language, social and emotional development.
Children of all ages are attracted to electronic devices. For the youngest – ages two to five – academy paediatricians recommend limiting screen time to no more than one hour per day of high-quality programming.
The organization also has developed guidelines to help parents oversee device usage and warned that inactive periods spent with electronic devices may play a role in childhood obesity.
Despite the academy's recommendations, the South Nassau poll found that fewer than half of parents surveyed knew about the guidelines and only 13% had heard about them from a paediatrician.
Beyond the academy, the National Sleep Foundation has cautioned against too much exposure to the bright, short wavelength light emitted from screens, which is called “blue light”.
Blue light exposure just before bedtime “can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body's internal clock”, according to the foundation, referring to the body's natural circadian rhythms.
Dr Lauren Hale, a professor of family and preventive medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, told Newsday in 2015 that a book before bedtime is a healthier alternative to electronic devices because of blue light exposure.
The South Nassau's poll, however, found some parents deem themselves ineffective at curtailing their children's screen time.
For example, 25% of parents reported their screen-limiting efforts as very successful. Sixty-two percent of parents said they do not use parental control settings designed to limit screen time.
“Smartphones and other devices obviously are essential now in most families, but we need to understand that while there are positive benefits, there can also be negative effects on healthy social development. Moderation is key,” Dr Adhi Sharma, South Nassau's chief medical officer said in a statement recently.
The survey, meanwhile, is South Nassau's second this year and the sixth in a series of quarterly Truth In Medicine polls, which the hospital began last year. The surveys question people on Long Island and in New York City about critical medical issues that affect large segments of the population. The aim of the polls is to help spur public education to improve public health, Rosenfeld said.
South poll finding:
– Average Long Island/New York City household has three smartphones, 2.89 televisions, two tablets and 1.65 computers.
– More than 90% of children prefer to spend their screen time on smartphones and tablets or in front of a TV.
– 51% of parents with children 6 and under say they use parental controls to monitor their children's screen time.
– 36% of parents with teens try to limit screen time.
– Parents who restricted youngsters' screen time or used parental controls are more likely to eat dinner together. — Newsday/Tribune News Service
Source: South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside