TVs, tablets, laptops, kindles, mobile phones – the number of devices that we dedicate ‘screen time’ to are multiplying rapidly. Today, babies play with their parents’ phones, toddlers own LeapPads, eight year olds own smart phones and there is a growing anxiety amongst the older generation witnessing this societal development.
This feeling of disconcertment is leading to a new movement of minimalism, in an effort to drown out the white noise that screens give out, and focus on the joys of simple, everyday life. Thousands of Instagram accounts, each with a plethora of followers are dedicated to living a more minimal lifestyle and the hashtag #noscreentime pervades. In addition, at the end of 2016 experts including educationalists, psychologists and authors called for official guidelines on child screen use and a minister for children to try to address the ‘toxic’ nature of childhood.
That being said, just how concerned should we be with the amount of screen time that we consume? When we hear that Steve Jobs and his former right-hand man, Jonathan Ive, whose design for the iPad is so simple that toddlers can operate it, both strictly limit how much technology their children use at home, are we right to worry about the impact that too much screen time could have on our health and wellbeing?
Excess screen time continues to be cited as the cause behind antisocial behaviour, medical problems such as obesity, depression and insomnia and poor academic performance – one recent New York Post article even describes it as ‘digital heroin’. These are worrying claims for parents not to take note off when they see their child entranced in a video game or TV programme. As a result, for years the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discouraged any screen time for the first two years of life and afterwards recommended a maximum of two hours’ screen time a day.
However, a study published last month in the journal Psychiatry Quarterly advises that we might be worrying unnecessarily. The study analysed data from 6,089 teenagers in the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey in Florida. It asked about screen time, sleep, school grades, family eating patterns, depression, physical activity and risky behaviour such as carrying weapons, fighting at school, having sex while drunk and taking drugs. It showed that up to six hours a day of screen time was nothing to worry about and the lead author Christopher J Ferguson, from the department of psychology at Stetson University in Florida cited that the AAP recommendation, which has now been lifted for over five-year-olds, wasn’t based on any rationale.
Fergusan said: “Based on this study, as well as another large study by Andrew Przybylski at Oxford, it looks like anything up to about six hours a day is pretty normal, and not associated with even minor negative outcomes. Screens are now pretty much woven into our lives. The whole concept of screen time is really different to what it was 20 years ago.
“So long as kids are doing OK in school and getting enough sleep and exercise, then – for most of them at least – screen use is not going to have a profound impact. Our lab recently published one study looking at violent media consumption, anxiety and depression, and found no evidence for links.”
We can’t change that technology is a huge part of everyday life so it would be remiss to advise cutting it out entirely, especially for children as, like it or not, they will need a good level of understanding when it comes to screen technology when they begin school. However, the general consensus is one of applying common sense to the situation. Allow screen time but in moderation and never at the expense of fresh air and exercise and reading hard copy books.
Some tips below to controlling screen-time:
1) Install a parental control app that lets you manage the time your children spend on their tablets and smart phones.
2) Don’t allow children any screen time for an hour before bedtime.
3) Don’t allow devices such as tablets, TVs or phones in a young child’s bedroom.
4) Encourage non-screen time activities such as reading, role-play, creative crafts and exercise over watching TV/playing on a tablet.
5) For the adult: leave mobile phones downstairs before bedtime and refrain from checking social media/e-mails in bed.
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