During quarantine, it is natural children will end up spending more time on their tablets, phones and computers, but what are the implications? Should parents be limiting their children’s screen time?
Technology has developed spectacularly over the last 25 years. In 1998, only 9% of British households had internet access. This seems almost unimaginable today, where that number has rose to over 90%. Now, the internet has become a staple tool which can be used to communicate, to work, to study and to enjoy. Children growing up in this generation will naturally become fluent with their use of these technologies as many have access in the forms of tablets, gaming consoles and computers. It could be argued that their whole lives will consist of being in front of screens, so what is the problem? However, are there actually negative implications of their screen-time? How much is too much? Or is the issue the content on the devices itself?
Despite a lack of conclusive evidence, there is a consensus amongst leading health institutions that screen time should be used within moderation, especially for younger, developing children. The idea is that while screen-time is stimulating for the brain, it encourages a routine of inactivity. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends no more than 2 hours a day of TV and screen-time for all. This is to reduce sedentary behaviour and to increase physical activity to avoid weight gain. The World Health Organisation also agree that replacing prolonged restrained or sedentary screen time with more active play is beneficial. Their complete list of recommendations for young children is available here.
When looking at the emotional aspects of excessive screen use, this is where much of the debate is centered. The influence of social media has heavily shaped how our society functions and how people interact. It has also frequently been shown to cause loneliness and low self-esteem. The Office for National Statistics highlights an increase of mental health symptoms amongst young people who spent more than three hours using social media on normal school nights. These children were “more than twice as likely to show symptoms of mental ill-health”. UNICEF say it is a “difficult challenge” to “draw the line of healthy and harmful use”. They say parents must adopt an “individual approach” as each child develops at different speeds. More information can be found here.
Academic performance has also been impacted by the increase of technology, with two-thirds of teachers feeling that technology is a growing distraction. Written in 2016, the article states that “most teachers also said they’ve seen a dramatic change in emotional, social, behavioral and cognitive challenges in students during the last three to five years”. Since 2016, these concerns will have risen as now half of children in the UK own a phone by the age of seven. This BBC article provides a great insight into how spending extra time in front of a screen can negatively influence a child’s academic performance. With GCSE results analysed, the results showed an extra hour a day on screens led to a fall of two grades overall in their final grades.
There are many ways to limit children’s screen time. The Educational Appstore has a fantastic article showing a selection of IOS and Android apps that can be used. This can be viewed here.
Outside of using more technology, there are other steps that can be taken. Creating ‘technology-free zones’ such as the bedroom and the dining room is a great way to encourage healthier sleeping schedules and more conversation-focused mealtimes. Having technology-free days as well is a great way to un-plug and appreciate other things.
Teachers2Parents, our communications application has been used by teachers across the UK to set work which parents can set for children to complete without the use of screens. This software is currently free due to the coronavirus pandemic, click here for more details.