Study: 70% of Israeli parents say children addicted to screens

Over half of religious parents surveyed believe it inappropriate to give a smartphone to a child, even over 17, while over two-thirds of secular parents see it as a helpful tool for kids over ten.

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March 3, 2019 17:16
3 minute read.
Israeli Gaza teens

Israeli teens Meshy Elmkies, Liam Yefet and Lee Cohen use their Instagram account @Otef.Gaza, or Gaza Periphery, to share their experiences of life under rocket fire at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, November 11, 2018. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

 
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Approximately 70% of Israeli parents believe that their young children are addicted to smartphone and computer screens, a study published Sunday by the Israel Screen Rehabilitation Center for Children has revealed.

The research focused on more than 500 parents of children aged five to 12 years old across the country’s Jewish population centers.

Some 55% of parents are concerned, the study revealed, that the time their children spend staring at a smartphone or computer screen will have a detrimental impact on their child’s brain, and 17% fear that they will face a violent reaction should they demand that their children stop using their devices.

The study further revealed that 65% of parents believe that their children’s screen time negatively impacts their ability to create and strengthen interpersonal relationships.

Despite these fears, only about one-quarter of parents (26%) considered that they would be fighting a losing battle if they now attempted to limit their children’s screen use.

“A few years after they entered our lives, Israel has become a global leader in the use of interactive screens among children and youth,” said Adi Pinhas, director of parenting and family at the center. “In this case, Israel’s leading role is a source of concern. The cumulative evidence in this study shows that uncontrolled use of screens not only leads to damage to the quality of life, studies and social life of young people, but also changes the structure of their brain in a way that will affect their entire lives.”

The survey also found that 42% of children use their smartphone in the first minutes and hour after waking up, and while getting ready for school and kindergarten. More than one-quarter (28%) of parents said their children use smartphones in bed prior to going to sleep.

The center, whose work is partly based on the research of American integrative child psychiatrist Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, offers a guidance program called “The Screens Challenge,” which aims to accompany parents in implementing a so-called “electronic fast.”

The program designed by Dunckley, which has received considerable academic support, seeks to rehabilitate children from their screen dependence and reduce symptoms caused by Electronic Screen Syndrome, a condition characterized by tiredness, depression, poor concentration and antisocial behavior.


“We now offer a proven method that grants parents tools that will assist them to give their children a healthier and more balanced life by eliminating screen dependence,” said Pinhas.

Young parents (under 34 years old), the study revealed, are more concerned about screen time than older parents. Only 14% of young parents were willing to give children under eight a smartphone, compared to 27% of older parents.

Differences were also identified among parents with varying levels of education. For example, 10% of parents with high school education permitted their children under six years old to use a smartphone, compared to only 3% among parents with post-secondary education.

Unsurprisingly, there were also variations between religious and non-religious parents. More than two-thirds (69%) of secular parents said it was appropriate to purchase a smartphone for their children by their 10th birthday, compared to the half of religious parents who do not believe that their children should be given smart phones – even after the age of 17.

Of course, excessive screen time is not a problem that only affects Israeli parents. According to a Pew Research Center survey published in August 2018, 65% of US parents were concerned that their teenage children were spending too much time in front of screens. Some 57% said they limit when and how often their teen can go online or use their smartphone.

While the true impact of excessive screen time on children may not be realized for decades to come, initial data published in December 2018 from a $300m. National Institutes of Health (NIH) study on 1,000 American children determined that children spending more than two hours daily in front of a screen scored lower on thinking and language tests.

In the case of children reporting more than seven hours of daily screen usage, scans even showed premature thinning of the brain cortex, the outermost layer surrounding the brain and the part associated with higher thought processes.

The NIH is expected to publish more in-depth data from the study later this year.

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