The Effects of Screen-Time on Children and Why They Should Play Outdoors Instead

Introduction

Children nowadays are watching more and more television, playing more and more video games, and getting more hours of overall screen-time starting at a younger age. This presents many harmful effects on children’s mental and physical health, as well as on their development. I chose this topic because the list of harmful effects of screen-time on children is extensive, and it is really not a difficult problem for parents to fix. Parents need to push their children to spend more time playing outdoors and minimize daily screen-time. With parents’ commitment, they can create a healthier environment for their children to grow and develop.

Research Review.

From the Source Paper to now, I adjusted my approach to this topic, so only two of my sources were still relevant. The article by Boyland and Halford was very useful in the beginning stages of this project. It broadly explores the relationship between television and children, and how it effects their health. It explained the idea that children gain weight when they watch television because they are susceptible to advertising, a topic discussed in the OpEd. The article by Harmon was useful with relating children’s susceptibility to advertisements to all other messages, specifically those of materialism and violence.

During the rest of my research for this project, I added nine more sources that helped to support my topic. The book by Perloff helped me substantially in my theoretical grounding where I explain the Extended Parallel Processing Model. The article by Kennedy-Moore was especially helpful while grounding my position in theory by providing useful information about the effects violent video games and other violent media has on children. Another article a found especially useful was the article by Freidman and Loria. This article discussed the many physical and psychological benefits to outdoor activity. This helped me shape my argument and reach my audience.

The article by Saad helped me focus in on my audience. It explored how parents react when their children are bored, i.e. whether or not parents are likely to rush in offering electronic entertainment as a possible solution. This article also outlined the screen-time habits of the parents themselves, which provided useful information for me to further narrow down my audience so that it could be successfully reached.

The combination of the information in these sources along with the rest in my resources list helped  me articulate my target audience, as long as build my arguments against screen-time and for outdoor play time.

Target Audience & Strategies.

My intended target audience is parents of young children. My persuasive goal is to convince them to encourage their kids to play outside more instead of watching television, playing video games, or any other type of screen-time. The average child under the age of ten spends around seven hours per day using some form of electronic entertainment, while the healthy amount is only two (Kowalski, 2017).  I narrowed my audience to parents of children under the age of ten, because the development of children in this age is greater affected by screen-time. Within that, if children use electronic entertainment it is more than likely their parents do too, so the relevant audience group is parents that use electronic entertainment.

To further improve my reach, I will narrow my audience to parents that use social media, particularly Facebook. According to the Pew Research Center, 75% of parents use social media, with 74% using Facebook. Of these, 79% agree that they learn useful information via social media. Of social media-using parents, 59% said they have read useful information exclusively about parenting in the last 30 days. Additionally, mothers are more likely to turn to social media for parenting advice than fathers (Duggan, M., Lenhart, A., Lampe, C., & Ellison, N. B., 2015).

Currently, parents generally agree that too much television is unhealthy for children, and that playing outside is a preferred alternate activity. However, according to a study done by Gallup, only 21% of parents are comfortable with letting their children struggle through boredom. Parents generally want to jump in to help their bored child in some capacity, which the study says actually hinders the child because it prevents them from using problem solving skills and their imagination. Only one-third of parents said that they would first let the child try to figure it out on their own, while the other two thirds would try to solve the problem for them. Of these, 27% said they would suggest activities to their child, 11% would stop what they are doing to entertain their child, and 4% would offer electronic entertainment (Saad, L., 2017). I suggest that parents strongly push their kids towards outdoor play, even if that means watching their child struggle to make up a game for a bit.

Parents obviously have high motivation to create the healthiest environment possible for their children. They care about the well-being of their children, therefore have high ego-involvement regarding everything concerning their children’s health. However, they also have strong self-efficacy, or ability, since they pretty much have sole control over their children until they linger towards the teen years. If parents have the motivation and ability to act against a threat, it is key that I provide them with a sufficient threat and solution under the Extended Parallel Processing Model (Perloff, 2014).

Parents will trust more well-known sources or friends when looking for parenting advice. Some well- known sources that contain parenting advice include Gerber, Super Nanny, or Kids Health. Parents look at the statistics and studies done by these organizations as a first look, or to gain knowledge on the topic. However, when further considering the information they learn they are likely to post on Facebook or ask a friend or sibling for parenting advice (Duggan, M., Lenhart, Lampe, Ellison, 2015). They trust personal references deeper than a test study of strangers.

Parents who value screen time themselves are likely to be more resistant to this message. A study ran by a pediatric organization showed that parent’s screen time correlates with their children’s screen time. If children see their parents watching more television or spending time on a computer or phone, the more they will want to do the same. Additionally, the more time parents spend in front of a screen, the more likely they are to allow their children more screen time (Bleakley, Jordan, Hennessy, 2013). Therefore, parents who value screen time are more likely to raise children who value the same. To change how their children use electronic entertainment, parents may require a slight change too.

The most useful strategy in this scenario is the Extended Parallel Processing Model, because there is a level of threat to my presentation. I am pointing out a potential flaw in the way parents are raising their children, so I need to present the information in a way that the parents won’t feel as if their parenting skills are being insulted. I need to avoid placing the message in the fear control process of message perception and carefully craft it to use the dancer control process. If the audience uses the fear control process, they reject the message, while if they use the danger control process, they accept it (Perloff, 2014).

Presentation of Theoretical Grounding. 

The Extended Parallel Processing Model predicts how an audience will feel about a fear-driven message. It stipulates that there are two potential ways one can process a message when exposed to a threat: the danger control process, or the fear control process. There are two main factors that determine how the message will be processed when fear is involved. It is crucial that a fear-driven messages contain both a threat, and the ability to extinguish the threat (efficacy) (Perloff, 2014).

The threat needs to be large enough that the audience can’t deny that it exists, therefore you need to prove to the audience that they are susceptible and that the threat is severe (Perloff, 2014). In my OpEd, I demonstrated susceptibility by going beyond the simple fact that television viewership and other forms of screen-time increases obesity in children, and I explained to parents that the reasons for this, including lack of stimulation and susceptibility to advertising. I proved that the threat is severe by including specific research explaining the physical and mental effects of screen-time on children. The research included about violent video games speaks largely to my message’s severity because it explains negative effects that can effect a child for the rest of his or her life.

Efficacy also determines how a fearful message will be processed. Efficacy contains two components: self-efficacy and response efficacy. Response efficacy is how effective the audience thinks the recommended solution(s) will be at solving the problem. I gave the audience response efficacy by stating in what specific ways outdoor play-time is proven to be both physically and mentally healthy for kids. Self-efficacy deals with how capable the audience thinks they are to utilize the suggested solution(s) (Perloff, R. M., 2014). By giving many examples of types of indoor and outdoor play, the audience should experience ample self-efficacy.

Both components of threat and both components of efficacy will determine how a message containing fear is perceived. If the message has too high of a threat and not enough efficacy, the audience will default to the fear control process where they will want to protect themselves from the fear itself, not the threat. This causes the audience to reject the message, and the attempt at persuasion fails. When the message has a high fear and a high level of efficacy, the audience will process the message through the danger control process, where they are motivated to protect themselves from the threat. When the audience processes this way they will accept the suggested solution to the threat and will accept your message (Perloff, R. M., 2014). This is the goal of using fear in a persuasive message. By providing both a threat to their children’s mental and physical health, and sufficient efficacy with easy types of play as the solution, my audience (parents) will enter the danger control process and accept my message.

Final OpED

In the last half a century, children have developed an increasing reliance on technology for entertainment. People of all ages use games, television, and other forms of screen-time for entertainment. Unfortunately, not everyone notices how much children are becoming reliant on electronic entertainment. Many parents do not consider the long and short-term effects that too much screen-time can have on their children. It is important that parents like you encourage play-time as a primary form of entertainment instead of defaulting to screen-time.

Obesity is a major physical effect of children who have too much screen-time. As parents, you probably have heard before that too much television is unhealthy and causes your children to gain weight. Research strongly supports that the average hours per week that a child watches television has a positive correlation with child obesity. More than 60% of child obesity cases in the US can be traced back to television viewing (Boyland, Halford, 2013). This is largely because when using electronics, children are often sedentary and not getting the exercise they would if they were playing. Children also tend to snack more while watching television. This is likely because television does not stimulate children enough to keep them fully engaged, and their minds may wonder to craving a snack (A.D.A.M Editorial Team, 2017).

Another explanation for the correlation between screen-time and obesity suggests that children are particularly susceptible to advertisements and branding. This makes it easy for the food industry to advertise (what are usually fatty or salty foods) on commercial breaks during children’s shows or even during children’s shows themselves, utilizing kids’ love of their favorite characters. When children see these advertisements and the food on them, it causes cravings. This often causes children’s’ food preference to change and their average daily calorie intake to increase (Boyland, Halford, 2013).

The food industry is not the only one taking advantage of your children’s increased susceptibility to branding and advertising on television. Other industries recognize that the longer children spend watching television, the more they accept what they see as reality. How this translates depends on what they watch. For example, many shows and movies offer characters with what seems to be unlimited finances in the form of many expensive and flashy material objects, usually provided by advertising, even if this is not a normal lifestyle in actuality. A study showed that the longer children were exposed to affluent lifestyles on television, the more they wanted the expensive products that were advertised, and the more they valued luxury (Harmon, 2001).

The same study showed that the more children were exposed to violent programs, the more they came to believe that the world is a dangerous place (Harmon, 2001). Violent video games are worrisome for many parents, and have been studied by countless organizations to determine their effect on children’s attitudes. The American Psychological Association (APA) found that violent gaming can caused varying effects on children. In one study, children in third through eighth grade who played more violent video games experienced more aggressive thoughts one year later, which was linked to more self-reported aggressive behavior afterwards. Some researchers argue a different long-term effect: that playing violent video games can desensitize children to violence, much like how nurses and doctors are desensitized to blood after working with it for a time. They argue it can eventually reduce children’s empathy for victims, and increase acceptability of violence. The effects of violent video games on children are debated amongst psychologists, but most psychologists agree that the extent of the effect is a sum of multiple situational circumstances and individual factors. Individual factors that combine to most determine the effects of violent games include neuroticism (level of emotional involvement in games), agreeableness (consideration for others), and conscientiousness (ability to think before acting).  High neuroticism and low agreeableness and conscientiousness combined with situational factors such as exposure and targeting of domestic violence or bullying can determine the effects violent video games have on a child (Kennedy-Moore, 2015).

The CDC reports that 20 percent of Americans experience a mental disorder at some point during their childhood, but for some children it is too much screen-time that exacerbates underlying mental conditions. The average child spends seven hours a day looking at a screen. This can cause a child’s senses to overload, leading to poor focus and depletion of mental energy. Children are often frustrated by this, and can take out their aggression in the form of poor behavior. Increased screen-time also leaves less time for active play and exercise, which disrupts the sleep cycle and can cause mood swings and cognitive problems. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that kids who spent more than two hours per day using electronics showed greater psychological difficulties (Kowalski, 2017). To decrease the risk of a mental disorder and emotional stress, parents like you should limit daily screen-time to under two hours.

All the negative consequences of screen-time indicate that it is not a healthy way to keep your children entertained. Part of the problem may come from the fact that most parents feel a need to jump in when their child is bored to solve their issue for them. Boredom is actually good for children, because it helps kids build problem-solving skills. Therefore, by jumping in and providing a television show or video game to entertain your children, you are actually hindering them in the long-term (Saad, 2017).

Studies show that the best option as parents for dealing with a bored child is to give your children time to think of a solution to their boredom on their own before offering a suggestion. However, if a suggestion must be made, keep in mind that electronic entertainment is a potentially harmful way to solve your children’s boredom. You can instead make other suggestions that would be more beneficial for your kids. All parents should always suggest playing outside, because it is one of the healthiest forms of child entertainment.

Playing outdoors is proven to improve both mental and physical health, and encompasses a range of activities. By playing outside, your children will naturally exercise more because they have room to run and explore, which decreases their risk for obesity and decreases inflammation. Children who spend more time outdoors usually grow up with better vision, because they spend less time focusing on a screen, which causes nearsightedness. Spending time outdoors also stimulates your child’s brain, which results in improved short-term memory. The stimulation also restores your child’s mental energy, making it easier for he or she to focus in school, think sharper, and exercise creativity and imagination. Outdoor play can also serve as a stress relief to children who exhibit difficult behavior, particularly in school. Additionally, spending time outdoors boots children’s immune system, which is always a plus for busy parents who may find it difficult to take care of their sick child (Friedman, Loria, 2016). Outdoor play can include many activities, such as playing in the yard with the family dog, making up a game with a neighbor or friend, or even participating in an organized sports team. Since there are so many options, all parents should strive to prioritize outdoor activities for their children.

Occasional difficulties may arise, preventing children from playing outside. A common example includes the lack of a backyard. In this case, a child’s parent could supervise the child playing on the street. But perhaps the family doesn’t live on a street that is safe for play or the child’s parents simply don’t have time to supervise. The alternative to any of these would be indoor play. Many of the physical and mental benefits of outdoor play still apply to indoor play, making it a good substitute. Like outdoor play, indoor play can take may shapes. Kids can play board games, invite friends over, or build indoor couch forts.

If, after encouraging play-time, your children still want to watch television or play video games, the problem may actually stem from you or your spouse. Most parents know that their children copy them. This is because you are role models to your kids, and they want to be like you. Another reason is because young children are still learning, and if they spend a significant amount of time with you they are going to learn from your habits. This means your children also learn how to entertain themselves by copying what you do for entertainment. A study showed that children who co-viewed television with their parents between the ages of six to eleven were three times more likely to want to watch more television for entertainment (Bleakley, Jordan, and Hennessy, 2013). Therefore, that could mean that you and your spouse may need to cut back to the recommended two hours of screen-time as well, or at least until your kids go to bed.

To encourage a happy and healthy lifestyle for your children, make sure that play always comes first, and that screen-time is kept at a minimum.

Response to Reviewers.

I found my peer reviews very helpful and took many of the suggestions from both reviewers. One of the main suggestions from both Reviewer 1 and Reviewer 2 was to strengthen my severity aspect under the Extended Parallel Processing Model. I did this by expanding on violent programming, as Reviewer 1 specifically suggested. Both reviewers also suggested I state all the benefits of children playing outdoors, which I did include, and found it helpful to support my argument

Reviewer 1 suggested that I use the Bobo study as support of why violent media content can be potentially harmful to children. I am familiar with the study, but while researching it I found that most articles by psychologists and other professionals discredited it instead of supporting it. They explained that the study is outdated, and that the aggression children in the study showed could have come from annoyance or boredom from participating in the study itself. Additionally, professionals theorized that because the children were hitting a doll and not a real person, they were exhibiting “pretend aggression” and their actions would not necessarily transfer to “real aggression (Toppo, 2015).”

Reviewer 1 also suggested that I shift my paper around talking conversationally to my audience, or as if it were a sales pitch. This change made it much easier to address my audience more in an attempt to keep them engaged while reading. It also helped improve the susceptibility factor of the EPPM because it made the message more personal.

Reviewer 2 pointed out that I mentioned video gaming a few times but never went into depth, so I began to research it. Most of the research I found was specifically about violent video games, so I wrote a paragraph that covered video games and their violence. Researcher 2 also prompted me to research and specifically state the negative effects that screen-time has on the brain. By doing this, my argument was substantially improved. This increased the severity factor under the EPPM as well as the susceptibility factor. They also mentioned how my concluding sentence was a bit redundant, so I changed it a little bit without changing the underlying call to action.

Conclusion Paragraph. 

This project discussed the many disadvantages of parents letting their children use screen-time as a primary source of entertainment, as well as the many advantages of pushing children to play outdoors. Using the Extended Parallel Processing Model, I formed an argument based on threat and efficacy with the persuasive intention to convince parents to change their behavior from allowing their children to spend hours using electronics for entertainment to making their kids play outdoors instead. A possible next campaign idea would be to persuade parents to make their kids play more in nature settings, such as parks, rather than on urban streets and neighborhoods, using mental and physical health differences of the two settings. I think both of these messages could most easily reach their audience and be tested over social media. With a correct use of theory and sufficient evidence, this message would be likely to be accepted by parents of young children who spend too much time with electronics. This project has the potential to convince parents to their kid’s childhood for the better so that  they will live an overall healthier lifestyle.

References

A.D.A.M Editorial Team. (2017, April 24). Screen Time and Children. Retrieved December 11, 2017.

Bleakley, A., Jordan, A. B., & Hennessy, M. (2013, August 01). The Relationship Between Parents’ and Children’s Television Viewing. Retrieved October 19, 2017.

Boyland, E., & Halford, J. (2013). Television advertising and branding. Effects on eating behaviour and food preferences in children. Appetite, 62, 236-41.

Duggan, M., Lenhart, A., Lampe, C., & Ellison, N. B. (2015, July 16). Parents and Social Media. Retrieved October 19, 2017

Friedman, L. F., & Loria, K. (2016, April 22). 11 scientific reasons you should be spending more time outside. Retrieved December 11, 2017

Harmon, M. (2001). Affluenza: Television Use and Cultivation of Materialism. Mass Communication and Society, 4(4), 405-418.

Kennedy-Moore, E. (2015, September 14). The Truth About Violent Video Games and Kids, Part 1. Retrieved December 11, 2017.

Kowalski, J. (2017). What is too much screen time doing to our kids’ mental health? Retrieved December 11, 2017,

Perloff, R. M. (2014). The dynamics of persuasion communication and attitudes in the 21st century (5th ed.). New York: Routledge.

Saad, L. (2017, August 01). How Do Parents Handle Their Children’s Boredom? Retrieved October 19, 2017.

Toppo, G. (2015, July 01). Do Video Games Inspire Violent Behavior? Retrieved December 11, 2017.