Electronics and Importance of Downtime
Most children are used to staring at a screen, whether it’s a TV, tablet or other digital device – but how much is too much?
Technology has changed the way our children learn. They can find information easily from any corner of the globe without having to spend hours trawling through a library (now I’m showing my age) and many schools now use educational games and apps to help children learn, while having fun.
Coding is also part of the curriculum, meaning children can gain skills for future careers in the technology industry.
Health and wellbeing
However, many children are spending a significant amount of time in front of screens – a recent study from Canada found that the average two year old is clocking up 17 hours of screen time each week!
Too much time using electronics can be detrimental to a child’s wellbeing – not because digital screens are dangerous, but because it often means less time spent outside playing with friends.
This can result in less physical activity (which is good for their physical and mental health), less time developing important social and language skills and, in the summer months, less vitamin D – which is needed for strong bones.
Sleep and memory
It could also be interfering with their sleep patterns, which is why most experts agree that children shouldn’t be exposed to screens for an hour before bedtime, to help them unwind.
What’s more – technology may also be less effective than good old fashioned pen and paper when it comes to helping with their memory. There is some evidence to suggest that writing things down can help us to retain information.
Too much time online can also mean children may be exposed to unhealthy messages about body-image, especially on social media.
Things to consider
Screen time is something many parents worry about – which is why the UK government has now issued official guidance to parents for the first time, particularly around social media:
- Sleep matters: Getting enough good quality sleep is very important. Leave phones outside the bedroom at bedtime.
- Sharing sensibly: Talk about sharing photos and information online and how photos and words are sometimes manipulated. When in doubt, don’t upload!
- Education matters: Make sure you and your children are aware of, and abide by, their school’s policy on screen time.
- Keep moving: Everyone should take a break after a couple of hours sitting or lying down using a screen. It’s good to get up and move about a bit.
- Safety when out and about: Advise children to put their screens away while crossing the road or doing an activity that needs their full attention.
- Talking helps: Talk with your children about using screens and what they are watching. A change in behaviour can be a sign they are distressed – make sure they know they can always speak to you or another adult if they feel uncomfortable with screen or social media use.
- Family time together: Screen-free meal times are a good idea – you can enjoy face-to-face conversation, with adults giving their full attention to children.
- Use helpful phone features: Some devices and platforms have special features. Try using these features to keep track of how much time you (and with their permission, your children) spend looking at screens or on social media.
There’s no catch-all solution – you know what’s best for your child. But if in doubt, it’s never a bad idea to remember that children should generally be sitting less and moving more.