HELP­ING KIDS THROUGH THE DIG­I­TAL AGE

What is the long term im­pact of screen tech­nol­ogy?

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Dr Ash Nay­ate

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.

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