DR JUSTIN COULSON

Take a screen break

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - SHOOTING STARS -

Q

My part­ner and I are ar­gu­ing about whether screens cause prob­lem be­hav­iour in kids. Our nine-year-old wants a TV in his room to play video games. I’m say­ing no, but my part­ner thinks it’s fine and says it will keep him out of our hair. Am I be­ing too pre­cious?

A

The short an­swer is: “You’re right. He’s wrong.” Let me ex­plain why your part­ner needs to back down and lis­ten to you.

Hav­ing screens in bed­rooms is one of the most well-es­tab­lished risk fac­tors for our chil­dren’s pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment. This is for two cen­tral rea­sons:

First, when a screen is in the bed­room, the sim­ple fact is that par­ents have no idea what their kids are watch­ing. (This is called the “con­tent” hy­poth­e­sis.)

Se­cond, par­ents have no idea how much they’re watch­ing. (This is called the “dis­place­ment” hy­poth­e­sis be­cause screens dis­place more im­por­tant ac­tiv­i­ties.)

In re­la­tion to con­tent, a re­cent study pub­lished in the pres­ti­gious jour­nal De­vel­op­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy high­lighted that chil­dren with me­dia in their bed­room are likely to be ex­posed to more me­dia vi­o­lence than those with­out screens in their room. This led to kids’ feel­ing that vi­o­lence and ag­gres­sion are OK, and they be­haved more ag­gres­sively than their peers.

Other re­search shows that kids be­come more hos­tile in re­la­tion­ships be­cause of screen me­dia, and they see other con­tent that is harm­ful to their well­be­ing — in­clud­ing pornog­ra­phy.

The re­al­ity is that they’ll see con­cern­ing con­tent whether they have a screen in their room or not. But one thing is for sure — they’re def­i­nitely go­ing to watch more screens and in­crease their risks when they have them in their room.

Ev­i­dence from the Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Study of Aus­tralian Chil­dren high­lights that as soon as kids have screens in their room, they stare at them longer. The lat­est re­search shows that about 25 per cent of Aussie chil­dren aged 6-11 years had a TV in their bed­room in 2015. At 12-13 years of age, the num­ber of kids who could watch TV in the bed­room rose to about 50 per cent, in­clud­ing lap­top or other screen ac­cess. Data from across the world shows that the per­cent­ages only in­crease as chil­dren get older.

It’s not just about what they watch that af­fects their de­vel­op­ment. It’s what screens re­place that mat­ters too. Dur­ing the day, they miss out on re­la­tion­ships, ex­er­cise, ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and down time. At night, rather than dream­ing, kids are stream­ing — or gam­ing — and it af­fects their well­be­ing in sig­nif­i­cant ways.

Aus­tralian data in­di­cates screen time is af­fect­ing obe­sity, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, and other so­cial out­comes. If kids are too tired, they don’t re­late well to oth­ers. And there is strong ev­i­dence that screens are af­fect­ing chil­dren’s be­hav­iour, and their aca­demic re­sults. Plus, re­search shows that kids go to bed later, sleep less, and ex­pe­ri­ence lower qual­ity sleep when a screen is in their room.

Now that we’ve got the ev­i­dence out of the way, it’s im­por­tant that you don’t wave this ar­ti­cle in your part­ner’s face and say, “Told you so. Ner, ner, ner.” We need to have more ma­ture ways of com­mu­ni­cat­ing about these things. I’d sug­gest the fol­low­ing: first, ask him why it’s such a big deal to him that your son has a TV in his room. Be po­lite and gen­uinely try to un­der­stand. Per­haps he has some strong rea­sons. Or maybe he was al­lowed one as a child and thinks it didn’t af­fect him neg­a­tively. Lis­ten and un­der­stand. Se­cond, ask him what out­comes you both want for your son and dis­cuss how a TV may or may not help to achieve those out­comes. Third, de­scribe your con­cerns to him. Ask if he can lis­ten with­out judg­ment so that he can re­ally get what you’re say­ing. Fi­nally, fo­cus on “where to from here”, so you can prob­lem-solve to­gether. It’s im­por­tant you are united be­fore you start con­ver­sa­tions with your son about this. Don’t bully one an­other, though. Re­mem­ber the cou­plet: One con­vinced against their will Is of the same opin­ion still. Whether it’s mess­ing with their brain, im­pact­ing re­la­tion­ships, af­fect­ing phys­i­cal health, or lead­ing to de­pres­sion, there are no strong rea­sons for a screen in your child’s bed­room. And keep this in mind: it’s much eas­ier to never al­low me­dia in the bed­room than to al­low it and then try to take it back out. The an­swer comes down to one sim­ple word — just two let­ters — that can be tough to say. But that lit­tle word can save a LOT of pain down the track.

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