In our modern times the advancements in technology are increasing at a rate we almost cannot comprehend. As a result we are using screens more than ever before for work and leisure experiences. Screens and technology are even becoming an integral part of early development where children are learning tech use at the same time as they learn how to walk and how to toilet train.
A 2015 study by Hilda et al., published in American Paediatrics, found that from a population of 350 families with infant children (under 4 years) in the household, 75% of the children owned their own device (smart phone; television; ipad; tablet). Almost all of the infants in the sample (96.6%) frequently used devices and first used a device before the age of 1 year old. Parents also reported using these devices in a number of parenting practices such as utilizing devices as distractions while they did house chores or other activities (70%), keeping children calm (65%) and as a bedtime settling strategy (29%). Given that we are 8 years on from that study my hypothesis would be that if we measured the population again the numbers would have increased.
The question is: Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
The reality is that technology devices are here to stay and there are a lot of great uses for them. Especially right now. In this “new world” of Covid 19 screen use is enabling connection with friends and other relatives that don’t currently live in your home and online education would be impossible without it. We can definitely argue that there are some really good reasons to use it.
Before we hand over the device to our children, however, it is important to understand the neurological implications that screen time has on our cherished ones so that we don’t expose them to negative effects that may last long into the future.
A study conducted by Dr M. Twenge and Dr K. Campbell in 2018, examined a large random population sample (n = 40,337) of 2 to 17-year-olds particularly looking at their hours of screen use (smart phones, computers, electronic devices, electronic games, and TV) and levels of psychological well-being. As the use of screens went up (from 1 hr to 7 hrs) psychological well-being and neurological skills went down. The neurological skills included less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks. This population study was also more likely to rate higher on depression and anxiety scales. Another sample of low use (less than an hour) or no use was also examined which showed no changes in psychological well-being or neurological skills.
There have also been associations found between the amount of screen time consumed by children under 2 years and delays in expressive speech development (Ma J, et al.; 2017). On the flip side, another study found that after 5 days at a nature camp without access to any phones, a group of teenagers significantly increased their ability to accurately identify emotional facial cues suggesting that increased screen time may lower this skill.
So do we over-correct and take all the technology away? No of course not, that’s not realistic at all and will probably cause you a hell of a lot of problems. But, if you’re experiencing more mood issues in your child recently or if you’re noticing your kids having greater difficulties in the areas of imagination, motivation, organisation and planning then chances are their recent increased use of screens may be associated with this. The key message is that as parents we need to be very mindful about screen use (for all members in the family, including ourselves, not only the kids).
We need to remember that technology advancement has surpassed how fast our brains can evolve. And we need to remind ourselves what our brains actually need to flourish. They need experiences of human connection and wonderment through relationship to develop strong brain architecture – there is so much information about this that I am not going to list it all here. If you want more information as evidence I suggest you head to the Harvard Website, Centre for the Developing Child (I have listed the webpage in the references below).
So what can we be doing now?
Take breaks from screens. Short bursts of screen time with a human connective activity in between (This will actually help you as well)
If you know during this time of COVID 19 that your families screen time has increased, mindfully schedule in more face-to-face family activities to balance it out.
Enable the screen limit functions and stick to the routine on smart phones iPads and Tablets. Agree on how much screen time overall and when that can begin and end. (Think about this for yourself as well as we all benefit from these boundaries)
Learn something with your child. Join the baking movement that seems to have been born from our isolation and learn to make bread (or cake, muffins, cookies… whatever). In our household we decided to all commit to the couch to 5km running program.
Know what media your child is consuming and have conversations about this together in the “no screen” times. This has both a safety function and a relationship function.
Use screen time to your advantage by combining screen use with connected relationship activities. For example there are dance parties; music classes; story times and P.E. classes going on right now as people have creatively changed the delivery of their services to online. Don’t just set the kids up with the screen and walk away, make time to do these activities with your kids.
If your family have a history of mental health problems or from early on you have noticed that your child struggles with their emotions, be mindful that screen use will cause a greater risk to your child and family. That doesn’t mean you never use it but this means you need to mindfully plan screen time and plan balancing activities to neutralize possible negative impacts.
The Australian Government also has some thoughts on this too. Visit their website to find out more. https://bit.ly/3ekg7DT
Good Luck families, Stay Safe, Stay home, and get in touch in you want to know more.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2017, May 4). Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children: New research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests the more time children under 2 years old spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other handheld screens, the more likely they are to begin talking later. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 14, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170504083141.htm
Hilda K. Kabali, Matilde M. Irigoyen, Rosemary Nunez-Davis, Jennifer G. Budacki, Sweta H. Mohanty, Kristin P. Leister and Robert L. Bonner (2015). Exposure and Use of Mobile Media Devices by Young Children, Pediatrics, 2015-2151, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2015-2151
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive medicine reports, 12, 271–283. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.10.003
Uhis YT, Michikyan M, et al. Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior. 2014; 39:387-392. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.05.036
Centre of the Developing Child, Harvard University – https://bit.ly/2VbTlXw