Screen time and kids, a debate that can go on and on.
It’s a hot topic and one that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
While we are quick to pass comment on the negatives of excessive screen exposure, it’s hard to label screens in the “no go zone” when class rooms around the country are growing more and more technology based. It’s no longer unusual to walk into a year 1 classroom and see all 30 children with personal electronic devices, eyes fixed on a brightly lit screen participating in valuable and exciting lessons, and lessons that will most likely be very useable in today’s advancing technological world.
But how much is too much?
And how can we get our children to leave behind the screens that they have become so highly dependent on? When should children be encouraged to use their iPad’s, laptops and computers to engage in screen based lessons and when should they be encouraged to step outside and play?
What is the research saying?
So many questions surround this often controversial issue, and opinions differ between parents, health professionals, and teachers alike.
Research has now led scientists to understand that screen time activates the same part of the brain that cocaine does, the Frontal Cortex, and whilst using screens, the brain releases the chemical dopamine, otherwise known as the “feel good” chemical, which is a strong indicator of addiction.
As adults, we too are becoming more and more addicted to our screens, we scroll through Facebook when we are in waiting rooms or on public transport, we send emails while we are watching our kids swimming lessons and without realising it, we are setting the precedent that screens can be used wherever, whenever.
Watch this video for a quick insight into the frightening links.
“is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.”
Well renowned psychologist, Dr Awic Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine, makes interesting comment on the issue at hand. Too much screen time too soon, he says, " With the growing time spent on screens, children’s fine motor development is being impacted substantially. No longer are children holding pencils to colour, instead using their index fingers to swipe across. No longer do children squeeze playdough, they click off and on. This area is closely associated with Occupational Therapy, and we are seeing a growing number of referrals coming through for children who simply do not have the hand strength to hold a pencil or tie a shoelace. In essence, with the increase in time spent on an iPad using an open hand to point and swipe, time is reduced for children to move their hand muscles from open to closed thus decreasing the development of hand strength."
Occupational therapy can assist with the developmental, behavioural and cognitive impacts of increased exposure to screens.
There are some frightening links between screen time and language development, too. More and more research articles are popping up, stating that those toddlers who use a considerable amount of screen time, are found to have language delays and speak fewer words. We're certainly seeing this in our clinic too, with more speech referrals at younger ages.
Speech Pathology can assist with language and vocabulary delays, that may have been impacted by increased/excessive exposure to screens.
What do we recommend?
As health professionals, it’s hard to argue with the guidelines issued by The Department of Health, Australia. The guidelines suggest the following:
Birth to two years:
● Children younger than 2 years of age should not spend any time watching television or using electronic devices. This includes DVD’s, YouTube animations and movies.
Kids 2 to 5 years:
● Sitting and watching screens should be limited to less than 1 hour a day
Ages 5-17 years:
● No more than 2 hours of screen time per day.
What can kids do instead?
Screens are not only used for entertainment though, we are all guilty of using them for those valuable few minutes of peace and quiet! So what can we do instead of the screens?
Think back to your childhood. What did you do to entertain yourself? Or even better…what did you do when the endless echoes of “Mum, I’m bored” fell on deaf ears?
And while the weather is great, here’s a list of activities that will keep the kids off the screens and making the most of the summer weather:
● throwing and chasing balls
● wheeling, pushing or pulling different toys and objects
● walking, running or jumping into puddles, around trees, over stones or cracks in the footpath, or towards favourite objects
● blowing bubbles and chasing them as they float away
● playing in sand, mud or small amounts of water – but always supervise water play to prevent drowning accidents.
● playing games of chasey, hide-and-seek or kick-to-kick
● crawling through tunnels or climbing over fallen trees
● moving in different ways with colourful leaves, flowers, scarves or streamers
● going on a walk together and naming all of the different sounds you hear
● building a castle out of boxes, clothes baskets or outdoor play equipment or furniture.
School aged children:
● building and creating with equipment, furniture or other things they find outside
● playing tiggy, chasey or tag
● climbing trees.
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