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Is a Digital Lifestyle a Deadly One?

New research suggest what many have long suspected — this digital lifestyle we’re leading may also be a more deadly one.

Analyzing 173 studies conducted since 1980, researchers discovered that three quarters of them found that increased media viewing (mostly TV) was associated with more negative health outcomes:

The studies offered strong evidence that children who get more media exposure are more likely to become obese, start smoking and begin earlier sexual activity than those who spend less time in front of a screen, the researchers said.

Studies also indicated more media exposure also was linked to drug and alcohol use and poorer school performance, while the evidence was less clear about an association with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they added.

One key finding was that quantity, and not necessarily the type of content, seemed to be more closely related to negative health outcomes. So for everyone worrying that a violent video game is worse than a non-violent one, it may be a moot point if both kids are spending 5 hours a day playing it.

But we’ve long known these findings, since many of the studies the researchers looked at have been around since the 1980s. What the current researchers did was to aggregate all of the data from these individual studies to look are more global, general effects.

Watching more than 8 hours of TV a day is a likely predictor of later obesity in children. Children should watch as close to zero TV as possible during the first 2 years of life, and then only limited TV viewing (less than an hour a day) until age 5 or 6.

The same goes for Internet use. Start your kids out slowly on the Internet, and greatly limit initial usage to just an hour or less a day. This helps emphasize the importance of everyday non-technology based social relationships, which are the building blocks for other kinds of social relationships like they may eventually build online.

As the article also points out, in addition to the health concerns, all of this media saturation also may encourage children to grow up even faster:

Thirteen of 14 studies that evaluated sexual behavior found an association between media exposure and earlier initiation of sexual behavior, the researchers said.

We can’t put any of these genies back in their bottles (nor, I am certain, would it be wise to try). The key is for children and teens to learn how to set limits and boundaries on these technologies, and to put them into context of their larger, real life. Because while a second life may be fun, teens won’t learn how to deal with social relationships face-to-face if they don’t have the opportunity to practice them face-to-face (since no amount of virtual worlds can replicate the experience of being with someone in person).

Read the full article: Lots of TV and Web harms kids’ health

Is a Digital Lifestyle a Deadly One?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Is a Digital Lifestyle a Deadly One?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Dec 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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