Today media coverage has once again released more on the hazards of screen time and children highlighting that by the time a number of children are 7 years old they will have spent a whole year in front of a screen! This is an astounding statistic but sadly it appears that this is becoming a rapid reality for so many of our youngsters. The even bigger reality, however, is exactly what the outcome of so much screen time will be in longer term health outcomes for our children.
The list appears to extending as more and more research comes in and shows that children who have increased screen exposure times are more likely to suffer from the following:
- Overstimulation which encourages inattention and impulsiveness
- Slow social and motor skills
- Heart disease
- Decreased Life Expectancy
Yet strangely even with this list, it seems that sales of screen based media for our children to play with are on the up with many of them having access to five different types at any one time! What then are the alternatives in this screen based age that we live in and how can screen time be optimised for the good of our children’s development?
For sure, some screen time in older children is inevitable and whilst the recommended time allowed for under 2’s remains zero, seeking to find a reasonable compromise surely has to be at the heart of most parenting agendas. In Psychology Today an observation is made that “it’s not what they do” in terms of screen viewing but “what they don’t do” and having an understanding of this in terms of what alternative activities “do, do” helps pave a way forward in our action packed world of screen domination!
A good example of an alternative is play out of doors in green spaces. Essentially, there has always been an argument for such arenas to be used in terms of child development but now with busy cities and in a world of hidden dangers this can sometimes be seen as problematic, not only in terms of safety, but also finding the time to encourage children to engage in such activities that benefit them cognitively and sensorily as well as in so many ways.
It is noted through research articles that outdoor play heeds healthy psychological and physical development in children, increasing indicators of physical health whilst improving psychological well-being at the same time. Studies have also shown that ADHD symptoms can be reduced in green environments as well as showing that girls who engage with their natural environment and green spaces tend to score higher in measures of self-discipline. Playing outside can also promote creativity and social skills.
However, some will argue that social skills are not entirely missing with e-opportunities but essentially even with the interactive and communal games around now, they cannot substitute the wealth of opportunity that playing out of doors creates. Leading by example, parents can help children foster a love for such environments.
Coming inside the alternatives range from creating opportunities for children that continue to inspire them and develop them further. Traditional games, crafts and books all add to the wealth of the indoor arena that can help them grow up in a world or inclusion, participation and co-operation with those around them as well as helping them forge concepts and contribute in the long term to their health and well-being. Reducing screentime at bedtime can also promote a calmer and more restful night’s sleep. Even iPads and laptops (as opposed to Kindles and other e-readers) that have books on them and which are popular at night can be problematic in the sense that their backlights send the wrong signals to the brain and encourage the reader to wake up!
Clearly therefore parenting with an advocacy that promotes an all rounded experience is key to developing children to be the best and healthiest that they can be. Screens, in a regulated capacity, have a place in play and education as a child gets older, but importantly non-screen alternatives also provide many opportunities that children are otherwise deprived of in the multimedia screening age.
Today, then, as research continues to point out the issues and still children are drawn and attracted to screen technologies, as parents we can make a difference by keeping the focus on all rounded development crucially encouraging other environments and forums in seeing the need and promoting their place in our children’s lives.