Are you screening your child’s “screen time”? Are you screening yours?

24 Jan, 2017 Categories: Blog

Dr David Lee, Lead Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Camali Clinic shares the good, the bad and the ugly truths of technology

The influx of technology into our homes has been something of a gradual progression, although there has been a gaming and social media boom among children and teenagers in recent years. Companies like Apple have certainly made technology more accessible and portable. It has affected our children insofar as they now have more information and resources at their fingertips than ever before. The whole world is now a digital one. At the same time, many families are struggling with the issue that their children are having too much “screen time”. While this is convenient for families, in some senses, for example if the parent is busy, it is leading to social skills deficits in children. Technology, including gaming, social media and use of the internet, can become addictive with over-usage. This is leading many children to suffer markedly in terms of their education.

Used in the right way, and with the right balance, technology can be an extremely useful resource for all.

It can aid learning in all sorts of ways. However, if the child spends too much time playing games or using technology in a way that does not enhance cognitive functioning, it can become addictive. With too much “screen time”, children can start to suffer social skills deficits, poor concentration, attention difficulties, sleep problems and low mood. Over time, this may lead to depression, low self-esteem, anxiety disorders and other mental health problems.

Parents and families must carefully monitor the use of technology in children as well as in teenagers. Not only is technology addictive but social media can also be risky. Many people are not who they claim to be online, and so e-safety is very important. Parents should set time limits for the use of technology and be careful that children are not using directly before going to bed at night.

Overusing technology can have a huge negative impact on studying and on educational performance.

It can lead to low motivation and to an addictive tendency to use “screen time” as a way of avoiding the discomfort of facing studying or dealing with challenging pieces of homework. However, used in the right way and with the help of teachers and parents, technology can be a wonderful aid to learning and can offer uniquely creative ways to learn. Some children learn visually and through pictures, symbols and video clips rather than from written words or spoken language. Screen-based technology can be a very effective way of engaging such children in learning.

The internet is a wonderful resource and yet it is full of traps which children and teenagers can fall into. There are many websites with undesirable content in all kinds of ways. Also, in terms of social media and chat-rooms, many people use false identities and could ultimately be harmful. We have a duty to our children to monitor and ensure their safety. Making them aware that their internet usage is being monitored, especially during teen years, is setting a helpful boundary for the child. He or she may resist it, but ultimately it is helpful.

Balance in anything is essential to our mental and physical health and well being.

Too much of anything is not good for us. The use of technology must be in moderation and for a variety of purposes. Many children are becoming too sedentary and not taking daily exercise because they are sat for too long using screen-based technology. It is essential that “screen time” is kept within confined time periods for children. Children must be encouraged to spend time outdoors, to exercise, to play sport and to socialise with others.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to duration. Generally speaking though, anything in excess of three to four hours per day spent playing electronic games or watching TV is excessive. Of course, there may be days when this is more but these should be the exception rather than the rule.

The early years

Children below one year could benefit from learning songs, seeing pictures and watching cartoons at a very young age, for example, below the age of one year. However, it is essential that this is an interactive experience done with the parents or other family. Babies should not be left to watch cartoons and songs on an iPad or other tablet alone for long periods of time. This is a “quick fix” that may help to keep them quiet and engaged for a time, but it can lead to all kinds of developmental delays, including cognitive, emotional and psychological. Many parents are now finding that children will be delayed in terms of their verbal language development if they have been left in front of “a screen” for long periods of time during their early years. Used in the right way, and in moderation, technology can be very helpful even for young children, but it must be carefully monitored, used sparingly and done so in an interactive fashion in a way that is engaging and fun for them.

Parents reliance on technology

Parents who are struggling with “screen time” problems either with young children or with teenagers should seek professional help if their own efforts to tackle the problem have not been successful. It is also worth remembering that, as adults, many of us have become reliant on our mobile phones and iPads in a way that we never were previously. It is a fine line. However, “screen time” can be a problem for adults and children alike these days. Many children will follow the inadvertent examples set by their mother or father. As such, family time is hindered. The overuse of technology and addiction to internet and other screen-based technology is also driving many married couples apart.

If you recognise that there are problems with “screen time” and technology in the family, then be proactive and do seek professional help.