HELPING KIDS THROUGH THE DIGITAL AGE
What is the long term impact of screen technology?
IT is very important to understand the influence that screen use now has on our society and to find ways to help kids through the digital age. In a recent American study by Common Sense Media, CNN reported that children aged 8-12 are spending an average of 4 hours & 39 minutes on screen media. For children under eight, the average time spent is 2 hours & 19 minutes.
Are these numbers surprising? Screen time has long been a contentious issue for parents and educators. Our cultural reliance on technology seems to be ever increasing. Children even as young as five or six are encouraged to own electronic devices for class work and homework and presumably for some entertainment as well. Even infants are learning to interact with screens, well before they’ve started putting words together.
HOW CAN WE HELP KIDS THROUGH THE DIGITAL AGE?
National organizations often propose guidelines for the use of screen time, prescribing a maximum number of hours per day. These guidelines are frequently revised and updated, which can be confusing for parents.
WHAT IS THE LONGTERM IMPACT OF SCREEN TECHNOLOGY?
The long-term impact of screen use, especially on developing brains, is yet unknown. It seems reasonable to assume that there will be individual differences in the way children react to screens, just as there are individual differences in the way children react to food additives. Some children might show signs of excessive screen use after a short time, while others might not.
For many children, screens can be mesmerising and highly stimulating. Apps, videos, cartoons and TV shows, are often fast-paced, with music, sound effects, rapid camera switches and bright colours. Immersed in a fast-paced virtual world, children quickly become over-stimulated. So, when the screen is eventually switched off, the real world seems slow paced and boring.
HOW DO CHILDREN’S MINDS ADJUST FROM THE VIRTUAL TO THE REAL WORLD?
When children transition from the virtual world to the real world, their brains seek to maintain the same level of stimulation. They engage in restless and over-active behaviour, e.g. ‘jumping off the walls’, rapidly switching from one activity to the next and are unable to focus on an activity – all to recreate the same level of intense stimulation offered by a screen. As their minds struggle with this adjustment, irritability and emotional outbursts are common.
HOW MUCH SCREEN TIME IS TOO MUCH?
Usually, our child’s behaviour and wellbeing are good indicators. Our child may show signs of addiction and withdrawal, such as using electronic devices as stress relief or mood enhancer,
preoccupation with using devices or habituation to devices, so that longer and longer periods of use are requested. For some children, the concentration and restless behaviour can affect them in other areas of life, such as school functioning, friendships, family relationships, physical activity and sleep. They may lose the inclination to have face-to-face interactions with their friends or lose interest in hobbies and sports that they once enjoyed. The decision about whether children are spending too much time with screens is a personal one. It’s all down to our own judgement. If we think our children are having too much screen time – the chances are, they probably are. If we wish to curb our children’s screen time, what can we do? A zero-tolerance policy may not be realistic or even practical in our increasingly technological schools. The ideal situation may be where technology enhances a child’s quality of life, rather than detracting from it. How can we help kids through the digital age?
HERE ARE SOME IDEAS FOR REDUCING SCREEN TIME: 1. Reducing screen time is often a family challenge, rather than an individual one.
It’s hardly fair to expect a child to reduce their use of screens, if the rest of the family are allowed to use their devices indiscriminately. Consider it a team effort and a challenge for each person in the family to cultivate better habits.
2. As a team, brainstorm ways to curb screen time.
Some ideas include keeping all devices in communal areas rather than in bedrooms; prohibiting screens from family meal times; participating in one screen-free
The long-term impact of screen use, especially on developing brains, is yet unknown.
family activity each week. Let each person in the family hold one another accountable and the kids will love taking the adults to task!
3. Ensure that kids have appealing screen-free alternatives.
Initially, our children may struggle to come up with their own ideas about how to use their ‘free time’. The best activities are those that most closely align with their interests – perhaps it’s helping them build and race paper aeroplanes. Perhaps it’s borrowing a cookbook from the library and finding a delicious and healthy recipe to prepare together. Perhaps it’s going to the museum or planetarium or a trip to the beach to explore rock pools. Rest assured, we will not have to maintain this level of direction forever. As our children become accustomed to less screen time and their minds adjust to the slower pace of the ‘real’ world, their own creative thinking skills will flourish. You can do much to help kids through the digital age.
Dr Ash Nayate is a clinical neuropsychologist specializing in brain function and resulting behaviour. Ash has almost 15 years’ experience working with children and families, supporting them to feel happier, more confident and resilient. To contact Ash please visit her website.