April 24, 2024

Doctors in Metro Detroit are raising concerns about the impact of screen time on children’s health

DETROIT – For parents, managing their children’s screen time is part of their job. They worry not only about the amount of time they spend, but also about what screen time is doing to their bodies.

Doctors in Metro Detroit are sounding the alarm about the types of injuries they’re seeing in children because of screen time — injuries they don’t expect to occur in children.

It is one of the many challenges of being a parent in today’s society. You need your young child to sit still so you can complete a task, so you give him or her a screen, but doctors say what makes life easier in the moment will create problems you’ll have to deal with later.

Dr. Joshua Gatz, a sports medicine pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, is concerned about a trend he sees in his practice with children and their physicality.

“We’re starting to see a lot of muscle disorders and soft tissue disorders in children who are particularly inactive,” Gatz said. “We’re starting to see some kind of muscle knotting and muscle spasms — things we normally see in adults.”

Gatz said he has seen children in the emergency room after falling asleep while looking at a tablet only to wake up and be unable to move their neck or arm. It can lead to missed days of school and even physical therapy in pediatric patients.

“We’re starting to see these types of conditions where they have limited range of motion,” Gatz said. “They don’t feel comfortable at school and it starts to affect their daily lives.”

“We see children who have difficulty with focus and attention, and many children with problems with visual tracking, which affects your overall functioning and especially with reading,” says Donna Dotson, senior physical therapist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan . “We see children who have just developed delays, delayed walking skills, delayed crawling skills, delayed sitting skills, delayed communication skills, children with increased anxiety because of screens. These are all areas that are affected by an excessive amount of screen time.”

She said she has been working in physical therapy for 30 years and has been encountering these problems recently.

“Screen time for our population in general has been steadily increasing over the years, but the COVID lockdown kind of pushed everyone over the cliff where everyone got into the habit of relying on screens and spending a lot of time on screens,” says Dotson. said. “Since then we’re actually seeing a lot of kids, most kids, who are quite frankly getting too much screen time and so it’s become such a crisis and it’s really scary because of the effects that we’re seeing so that we’re now suffering from this discussion about screens with every family we see is something we talk about.

Dotson said many families don’t realize screens are even a problem, and not only that, some have forgotten what to do when a screen isn’t involved and how developmentally appropriate it is for kids to be kids.

“For example, when children come. I don’t want them sitting quietly and obediently in the waiting room on a screen, they have to try to climb on the furniture and the parent says, ‘No, that’s not possible, you have to sit down. ‘ and trying to run around and ‘No, you can’t run in here. you have to walk. You have to stay here,” Dotson said. “These are practice opportunities because children’s development does not happen because time passes, but because they have practiced a lot. In the absence of screens, these are natural opportunities to practice self-control, follow directions and sit still and pay attention to the world around you.”

Medical professionals are asking parents more specific questions about their children’s screen use and providing information about how much screen time children should have, but most importantly, they are encouraging more play.

“In Michigan it can be a little difficult when it’s cold, but even in the winter it’s still possible to find youth sports and things like that to stay active,” Gatz said. “We only recommend 30 minutes six times a week. One thing every night. Even just walking around the block with the family, trying to escape screen time, just being active.”

Dr. Riffney Widner, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, is concerned about the number of children she treats for bone and muscle disorders. According to her, ailments are usually ‘elderly problems’.

“Especially around the spring and summer when they start to get more active, they start complaining about their knees, their back and their neck because they’re in a lot of pain from spending so much time looking at screens,” Widner said. “You usually see this in the older population as they tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles.”

The effect of too much screen time is not just physical. Local psychologists also see the effects mentally in children.

“I see that they are more socially isolated. They’re just on the screen, with headphones in, so you can’t communicate,” Widner said. “The children are often alone. The social skills are the second problem, because if you are not able to interact because you are completely interested in what you are doing, there are no opportunities to be social and learn.”

So what should parents do?

“We have to start doing things again as a family and as a group, because it has to be replaced by something else. So board games. What happened to family game night? Playing cards, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, whatever you have, we have to go back and get the things we stopped buying because we ran out of screens,” Widner said. “Even introducing screen time for the whole family so that those family-friendly films and having discussions set a good example for parents to put the phone down at mealtime and make sure you do what you ask of your child ​​to do: talk and be involved, which means actually talking about things or playing with them.”

Children’s Hospital of Michigan has a pamphlet for parents with guidelines about screen time. It can be read below.

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