Understanding how Screentime Affects Children’s Mental and Emotional State

By Mara Gordon, Play to Learn Facilitator

Did you know that starting the groundwork early by creating boundaries can help both children & parents avoid letting screen time take over our lives?

With how important technology is for nearly all aspects of life nowadays, it can be easy to let screen time take up most of the day. Digital media has revolutionized learning and made so much information accessible but there are some unintended negative consequences that accompany the positive benefits.

Understanding how digital media and screentime affect children’s mental and emotional state can help families create & use healthy boundaries with technology for everyone.

When one is watching a fun video or playing a game on their device, the brain releases “dopamine” which is a brain chemical that’s linked to feeling happy. This dopamine feedback stops when the video or game is over and leaves us feeling upset or sad, especially when its cut-short unexpectedly. This process reinforces the association of digital media as a positive stimulus that creates happy feelings and creates a feedback loop often ending in addiction.

So, when a toddler becomes accustomed to watching a show while eating dinner at home and the family tries to go out for dinner without a tablet, it can trigger a tantum, a physical expression of large emotions that they are unable to verbally express. The normal dopamine delivery that is associated with dinner has been disrupted and can cause the child to feel distressed in a way that is hard to handle.

Digital media and screens have provided humans with a virtually unlimited supply of social stimuli and dopamine production in the palm of their hand, but that makes creating boundaries for usage so important. Having a healthy balance of digital interaction and real interactions can be a challenge and requires some effort to put into action. It requires us to make conscious decisions about how to use our time as individuals and as a family.

Every family is different and will have their own expectations and boundaries, but all parents are capable and responsible for teaching their children behavioral controls. Try replacing screen time with in-person socialization or group activities; talking with your child at meals rather than having digital media on to keep them occupied. Or perhaps create “no-screen” zones in certain spaces like bedrooms or not allowing screens outside the house.

Take a break from your screens and come play at Explore & More as we get ready to host an Au-Some Evening, celebrate Mothers & More weekend, build together on STEM Saturday, and so much more!

Hayes, Trevor “Dopamine, Smartphones & you: A Battle for your Time” Science in the News, 2021

Muppalla, S. K., Vuppalapati, S., Reddy Pulliahgaru, A., & Sreenivasulu, H. (2023, June 18). Effects of excessive screen time on Child development: An updated review and strategies for Management. Cureus

Radesky, Jenny. “Screen Time & Temper Tantrums: Helpful Tips for Parents.” HealthyChildren.Org, 2024

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