Raising Free Range Kids: The Importance of Being Intentional with Technology for Children and Adolescents

Device use and screen time among children have increased significantly in the past two decades. An American child born after 2015 was likely raised in a household that had a computer. Today, about 31% of 8 year olds have a smartphone and by age 12, 71% do. During the pandemic, the amount of time children spent in front of digital devices rose by 17% in two short years (1) . While we do not have long-term data on the impact of screen based technology on children’s health and brain development, we do have years of research that inform us of what children need to be healthy. The research shows that children do not need technology, or much technology, to thrive.

Dr. Sumi SaysBeing a parent and a child in this digital era has its benefits and challenges. Today's child is exposed to digital devices at a younger age and with increasing exposure time. While devices have some educational benefits, the dangers of early excessive exposure to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing is well documented and on the rise. What can parents do to protect our kids from the harms of excessive screen time? 

By Dr. Sumithra Nadarajah, Functional Medicine/Holistic Healthcare Consultant

Consequences and Dangers of Excessive Screen Time in Children and Adolescents

Studies have shown that excessive screen time and media multitasking can negatively affect executive functioning, sensorimotor development and academic outcomes. Early screen exposure has been associated with lower cognitive abilities and academic performance in later years. Excessive screen usage can lead to problems in social-emotional development, including obesity, sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety (2)

According to the CDC, 57% of girls report persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness (3) and according to Children’s Commissioner, by age 9, 1 in 10 children have viewed pornography intentionally or accidentally. (4) 

couple sleeping peacefully in bed

Symptoms of Excessive Screen Time

Regularly overstimulated child

These may include : restlessness (cannot sit still), aggression, meltdowns, emotional shut down, defiance

Screens preferred over people

Do your children enjoy being with friends and doing things in person? If they prefer screen time over interaction with real people, it could be a sign of excessive screen exposure

Reacting badly when device is taken away

How does your child react when you take away their screen? Or when the wi-fi is out?

Some children grumble a little bit then find something else to do. However, if your child is already exposed to too much screen time, then they might not handle this so well.

If your child throws a tantrum, doesn’t know what to do with themselves, or keeps talking about their devices, then they probably need a longer break from the screen.

Trouble Sleeping

If your child has trouble falling asleep, it may be a sign of excessive blue light emission from devices that interfere with sleep hormones (5)

How Much Screen Time is Too much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics  (AAP) and the  World Health Organization  (WHO) have helpful guidelines for limiting screen time for young kids. The reality is, there's no magic number that's just right for every child. What's important is the quality of kids' content, how your kids engage with it, and balancing their time with and without screens in ways that are healthy and support their development.

The AAP's guidelines allow for some screen time for children younger than 2. For this age group, parental involvement is essential. They recommend the following for parents and caregivers:

  • Under 18 months: Avoid screen time other than video-chatting.

  • Age 18–24 months: Find high-quality programming (if you choose to introduce screen time), and watch or play together.

  • Age 2–5: Limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs.

Create a family media plan with consistent rules, and enforce them for older kids.

abstract image of woman improving sleep for hormones immunity and brain health

The Solution : Becoming Intentional with the Use of Technology

As research keeps emerging on the dangers of excessive screen time, as parents, we can start taking necessary steps to protect our children. Each family situation is different, each child is unique. It helps to make changes that are in alignment with your family values, and to make small changes over time. If your child is young, taking away their device may not be a big problem. However, for middle schoolers and beyond, this can come with a lot of backlash. 

Tips for Reducing Screen Time (6)

Grown ups: Address our own screen use by

  1. Deleting all social media apps from your phone

  2. Switch your screen to grayscale

  3. Turn off all notifications, including texts

  4. Keep screens out of the bedroom

  5. Get an alarm clock

  6. Be a screentime role model

  7. Replace judgment of excessive screen time with curiosity

Little ones

  1. Don’t use screentime to incentivize behavious that align with your family values

  2. Teaching children about what the family values and regularly highlighting examples of it eg going to bed on time, ensuring we get enough sleep or going to our place of worship once a week as a family, without any devices

  3. Sharing your interests with your child and inviting them to join you

  4. Naming your own frustrations with how your device takes you away from the other interests you have

  5. Have meal times that are always gadget free

  6. Pick some music together to listen to in the background

  7. Watching a device together with your little one or watching shows on a big TV in a common area

  8. If possible, choose audio over visual technology that ca be listened to while the child is drawing or building with lego bricks

Older Children

  • Help them prioritize their time by supporting their interests and hobbies and finding ways for them to participate 

    Eg if your teenage daughter would like to babysit over the summer, sign her up for a Baby sitting course and help her get her small business started

  • Inviting them to try something new with you, such as a game, a sport or a baking project

  • Looking for sources of inspiration, perhaps from a screen-based activity, that could inspire off screen interests.

  • Encouraging them to invite a friend to a meal if your teen will be more likely to participate. 

  • Teaching teens when and where they can look at their phone or should put it away (eg at school, at a weeding, with friends, at the dinner table)

It is important for us to set an example, as adults, on how to use technology. Our media use around our children ultimately predicts how they will behave on screens later.


Being a kid (and a parent) in this digital world is no easy task. So much changes at a speed that is hard for us to keep up with. Parents are frequently tired and overwhelmed from their own life’s demands and technology is an easy babysitter. However, it does come with devastating long term consequences, especially if a child is exposed to excessive amounts of screen time at a younger age, just as their brain is developing. Protecting our children from future mental, emotional and chronic health conditions is a cause worth fighting for and we should do our best to educate ourselves, check our own technology use and set good examples for our children so they may have a chance at becoming emotionally stable and healthy adults who have the tools to regulate their screen use and be good models to future generations.


Dr. Sumithra Nadarajah, a dedicated Functional Medicine/Holistic Healthcare Consultant, combines her medical expertise with a passion for holistic health practices. As a certified health coach, nutrition expert, and wellness advocate, Dr. Nadarajah is committed to helping individuals achieve their health goals through a balanced approach to nutrition, physical activity, and stress management. Her hobbies include playing the piano, meditation, exploring nature, and experimenting with healthy recipes, reflecting her belief in the importance of nurturing both the mind and body for a fulfilling life.


  1. The Common Sense Census : Media use by Teens and Tweens (2021). https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/8-18-census-integrated-report-final-web_0.pdf
  2. Muppalla S.K., Vuppalapati S., Pulliahgaru A.R., Sreenivasulu H. (2023). Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Child Development: An Updated Review and Strategies for Management
  3. Youth Risk Behaviour Survey Data Summary and Report (2011-2021). https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/YRBS_Data-Summary-Trends_Report2023_508.pdf
  4. Children’s Commissioner : Pornography and Young People


  5. Can Too Much Screen Time Harm you?


  6. Cherkin, E. (2024). ScreenTime Solution. Greenleaf Book Company Press.