We’ve all been there. That long car journey, that particularly busy day of juggling work and childcare, those moments when you just need to encourage your little one to settle down quietly just for 5 minutes. What one item in your parenting arsenal can help you with all of these situations? A SCREEN! Whether it’s a TV, a computer or a tablet, screens are becoming part of mainstream parenting and as we have seen over the last 18 months there is literally no escaping them.
But how does all this screen time affect our children? With most school children having to stare at a screen for 6 hours a day during the home-schooling period of 2020, this increase of screen time is bound to have some sort of impact. Is this impact positive or negative? With many of us now working from home as well, is working through a screen what the future holds for our children?
How Has the Pandemic Increased Screen Time?
While regulating screen time has never been an easy feat for parents, it certainly helped that there was at least a school days’ worth of respite each day. Socialising with their friends, partaking in sporting activities, being outside the home for most of the day, all of this helped to balance out the daily struggle of regulating screen time. But that all changed when suddenly we were all forced to stay home and live our entire lives through screens.
Classes, socialising, even birthday parties all had to be done via Google Classrooms or Zoom. Work that was sent home would be done so electronically and online learning platforms were encouraged for activities. We had no choice but to put our children in front of a screen for the majority of the day in order for them to be able to get an education and see their friends. Evening out this screen time with outdoor activities was made more difficult with strict “stay home” regulations and before we knew it our children were looking at screens in one form or another the entire day.
The Negative Effects of Screen Time on Children
So, what are the general negative effects of screen time on children? According to internetmatters.org there are three main areas where prolonged screen time can have a negative effect. These screen time affects include:
The blue light that is emitted from screen and devices cause the brain to misinterpret it as sunlight which in turn means that your child’s brain is on “daytime mode” all the time. This causes problems when children use screens before bed (up to 2 hours) as their brains struggle to adjust to “night-time mode”. This in turn means that when they do eventually get to sleep, they have a poor night’s sleep which makes them irritable the following day.
It’s no wonder that children are more irritable when they use screen regularly if they are getting a poor night’s sleep as a consequence. But as well as this, screen time affects their behaviour because the frequent usage is actually creating a habit. The more regularly a child picks up a screen, the more entrenched that practice becomes in their behaviour until eventually it seems like second nature. It takes on average 66 days for a person’s behaviour to become an automatic habit and this habit can be a hard one to break!
- Brain Development
Long periods of screen time is known to increase anxiety levels. This is down to the kinds of games children play, the sort of attention spans they develop over time and the frustration when things don’t load quickly enough, or they can’t find the right information. These anxiety levels can then affect their day to day life as they struggle to retain resilience. As well as this, technology in general is also having an effect on our basic life skills such as retaining knowledge (thank you Google) and sourcing difficult information (thanks for nothing Google).
The Upsides to Screen Time?
While you might be thinking that your poor little child is going to have irreparable damage from all this screen time, don’t panic! There are actually upsides too. In terms of the pandemic, screens allowed our children to receive an education, to talk to their friends and to continue to participate in society. It allowed them to access high quality learning through platforms and provided them to a wealth of information right at their fingertips. Internetmatters.org has also recognised these positive aspects to screen time:
While you might hear your kid shouting at their teammates over their headphones or worrying that they are spending too much time playing virtually instead of in real life, what is actually happening is that your child is practicing teamwork skills. Working in conjunction with counterparts from all over the world, your child has to quickly get to know their teammates and work with them for a communal goal. This isn’t something that can be replicated in real life easily!
- Problem Solving
If your child is more of a solo games kind of kid then they will have to think for themselves, look for solutions to a game and try to solve problems for themselves. Take racing games for example. Children will have to choose the right type of car, work out the racing line, decide when is best to pit and make judgement calls on when best to overtake an opponent. All of these skills help to build the brains connectivity and helps them practice skills for the future.
- Increased Knowledge Base
Gone are the days when you used to have to look information up in encyclopaedias or scour the library for information. Nowadays your child has all the information they need right at their fingertips. And with new information being added to the internet every second, there is always something new for them to learn.
- Social Barriers Removed
For those of us whose children prefer a “select group” or friends or who don’t quite fit in to the mainstream mould, screens can be a great way to find likeminded people and feel validated as a person.
Screens will always be a sticking point in parenting where we will never quite know how much is too much. As you can see with the above points, there are both positive and negative screen time affects that impact our children. All we can do is to teach our children the ability to regulate so that as they grow up, they are able to identify when to pick the screen up and when enough is enough.