Understanding the effect of screen time on children is profoundly difficult. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has issued an iterative series of warnings and best practices, has struggled to help modern American parents manage that tech/life balance. That’s no wonder given the speed at which technology has progressed and the speed at which tech firms can now bring products to market at affordable prices. With that proliferation of screens has come a parallel proliferation of myths about their effect on young minds. Some are simple misunderstandings. Some are reductive mantras that obscure critical issues. All are false.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Screen Time
Here are five screen time myths that an inordinate number of parents seem to believe.
It’s Only Important for Kids
As parents are looking into restricting screen time for their kids, they also might want to look at their own tech habits. Studies increasingly show that parental screen time can be problematic for both parents and their children.
Importantly for relationships, one victim of parental screen use is often their sex life. Research shows that the practice of paying attention to a screen rather than a partner can increase dissatisfaction in a relationship. That dissatisfaction can breed depressions and a whole lotta nothing in the sack.
But beyond the bedroom, it appears that parents who bury their faces in their phones may also causing kids to act up. One recent study showed that when parents reported multiple interruptions of family time due to technology, it was a strong predictor for whiney and poorly behaved kids.
It’s All Bad
Given the scientific communities dire warning about kid’s tech use, amplified through the nightly news, it’s understandable that a parent might view any screen as a potential hazard. But it’s important to note that screen time can be a valuable tool.
For instance, parenting experts often point out that using Facetime to interact with a far away parent or relative isn’t a bad thing. And that’s true for other types of screen use that are interactive at their core. Therefore many experts suggest that it’s not necessarily the screen time itself, but whether or not the kid is being passively fed media through that screen.
Yes, parents should be cautious with the amount of screen time. The AAP recommends one hour a day for kids 2 to 5. But parents should also be more concerned that the screen time is interactive and learning-based.
It’s Only About the Content
While interactive, learning-based content can boost the good of screen time, all screens have one huge downside when they’re on: the blue light. The light emitted by screens inadvertently simulates sunlight and can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythms. For instance, when a parent turns on the TV or pops a phone in an early risers hand to get another hour of shut-eye, the screen creates a kind of false sunrise that actually reinforces the early wake time.
That’s bad for growing brains, particularly when trying to develop good, natural sleep patterns. Experts recommend that screen are banned from bedrooms. Including the parent’s bedroom, BTW.
It’s Only About the Light
The light isn’t the only part of screen time that can mess with a kid’s brain development. Studies have found that the sound of television can also have an effect on a child’s development.
Several studies have looked at the issue of sound, but the most startling was linked to “the cocktail party effect.” Researchers found that when a small child is surrounded by numerous voices including their parents, they were unable to focus on the parent, unless they specifically saw their parent speaking. Another study found that children exposed to “adult-directed television” even when it was in another room had depressed executive functions in abilities like memory and self control.
It’s Just About Their Childhood
Much of the screen-time focus is on children, particularly the youngest, seemingly most vulnerable kids. But research is revealing that screen time habits can have an effect on older children too.
For instance, parenting experts say that parents who model poor screen use at home or, worse, in the car, are more likely to have older teens who have bad habits themselves. This is particularly bad for kids who are just starting to drive. A no screens policy in all vehicles is strongly advised.
But screen may also endanger their future love life, too. One recent study found that teens who interact with romantic partners primarily through cell phones are more likely to rate themselves lower in competencies related to interpersonal relationships. Suggesting maybe screen-time should be monitored until the kid goes to college.