As our society becomes more reliant on technology, it is important that carers and parents control the amount of time children and young people spend using screens.
Recent studies have shown:
- 30% of children and teens who used the internet for over 3 hours a day were diagnosed with depression.
- Excess screen time inhibits young children’s ability to read faces and learn social skills, two key factors needed to develop empathy.
- Children with more than one hour of daily screen time were more likely to be vulnerable in all five developmental health domains: physical health and wellbeing, confidence, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development and communication skills compared to children reporting up to one hour of screen time/day.
It is important that children’s time spent using technology is limited, and it is the responsibility of parents and carers to reinforce rules. This is to ensure that young people’s mental health is cared for to prevent mental illness and mental health problems following them from childhood to adulthood.
Shawmind aims to support the mental health of children from an early age to equip them with the skills they need to build resilience and look after their own and others’ mental health. If you want to know more about supporting children’s mental health, read on.
Understanding the Impact of Technology on Children’s Mental Health
What are the positive aspects of technology for children?
Before we address the negative aspects of technology on children and teens mental health, it is important to understand some of the positive impacts of technology and how it can be used as a tool for good.
Technology can be used as a learning tool. With endless resources and information, any topic to want to learn about can be studied using the internet.
Platforms such as YouTube offer various tools to encourage children to explore their creative side, including art, composing music, and designing video games.
Also, due to the globalisation of the internet, technology allows children to foster a global awareness and cultural understanding. They can engage in virtual tours, explore other cultures and connect with people across the world.
Finally, it is important to understand that technology is here to stay. Although many aspects of a technology-reliant future seem scary, future careers will require candidates to be proficient in today’s emerging technologies.
What are the negative impacts of technology on children?
Excessive screen time can lead to reduced physical activity which increases the risk of obesity and other disorders. Excessive screen time as opposed to playing outdoors, socialising with friends and partaking in activities can also hinder cognitive development.
Sleep disturbances and fatigue
The blue light emitted by screens and the engaging nature of technology can disrupt children’s sleep patterns, leading to difficulty falling asleep and fatigue during the day. This can impact their overall well-being and cognitive functioning.
Impaired social skills and relationships
Spending excessive time on screens can hinder the development of social skills, such as face-to-face communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence. It may lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining meaningful relationships with family and friends. This can negatively impact a child’s mental health.
Content on social media is specifically curated to appeal to our senses, promote an ideal lifestyle and develop insecurities to sell products. This can impact the way children and teens see their life and their bodies. Constant exposure to “perfect” content can cause self-esteem issues, which can lead to eating disorders and poor mental health.
Reduced attention span and cognitive abilities
Constant exposure to fast-paced digital content can decrease children’s attention span and make it challenging for them to concentrate and focus on tasks that require sustained attention. This can impact their academic studies and their ability to find enjoyment in non-technology based activities.
Risk of online dangers and cyberbullying
Excessive technology and social media usage increases the exposure to online dangers. This includes inappropriate adult content, cyberbullying, and online predators. Children may become victims of harassment or engage in risky social media without proper guidance.
Impaired academic performance
Excessive technology usage can negatively impact academic performance as it can distract children and teens during study time.
Dependency and addiction
Excessive use of technology can lead to dependency and addiction-like behaviours, where children feel a compulsive need to be constantly connected to screens. This can result in withdrawal symptoms when technology use is restricted and difficulty in self-regulating screen time.
Staring at a screen for too long can negatively impact the health of our eyes, especially during the developmental stages of children and young people. Children are at risk of developing digital eye strain and short sightedness with excessive screen time.
The Role of Parents and Caregivers in Monitoring Children’s Technology Usage
Setting healthy boundaries for screen time
As a parent or guardian, it is important to set healthy boundaries with technology. We encourage you to establish these boundaries as early as possible in your child’s life to get them accustomed to the healthy boundaries. However, it’s never too late!
- Establish age-appropriate guidelines for screen time limits.
- Create a technology use plan with specific rules and routines.
- Enforce the guidelines consistently.
- Encourage alternative activities beyond screens.
- Provide access to books, art supplies, and outdoor spaces.
- Be present and actively engage in quality family interactions.
- Regularly reassess boundaries as children grow.
- Maintain open communication.
Encouraging alternative activities and hobbies
Children get bored, so rather than waiting for them to reach out for that iPad, consider encouraging these alternative activities to technology usage.
- Engage in outdoor play.
- Encourage reading books
- Foster imaginative play.
- Encourage arts and crafts.
- Promote board games and puzzles for cognitive stimulation.
- Encourage participation in sports.
- Support musical activities.
- Engage in nature exploration and gardening.
- Encourage social interactions with friends.
- Encourage mindful meditation.
Leading by example
Children model the behaviour of their parents or adults in their lives. It is also important for adults to limit their screen time, especially in front of children and teens. Show them how to have fun without technology!
How much screen time is considered appropriate for children?
It is important to follow expert guidelines when setting screen time limits for your child.
- Under 2 years old: Children under 2 should have zero screen time, except for limited video phone calls with family or friends. This is the perfect opportunity to foster interests and hobbies with your child without technology.
- 2-5 years old: No more than one hour per day accompanied by a parent, carer or sibling.
- 5-17 years old: No more than two hours per day. This doesn’t include homework.
Are certain types of screen activities more detrimental than others?
As mentioned earlier, technology can often be a force for good. Educational content that is age appropriate can be beneficial to cognitive development in moderation, such as YouTube educational content and education TV shows. However, some screen activities like social media can be dangerous, and should be limited.
Parents should always monitor the amount of time children are spending on technology no matter the content being consumed.
Shawmind has a mission to improve children and teen’s mental health across the nation. We want to provide early intervention to prevent a further mental health crisis. Do you want to support Headucation in schools? Please donate or choose to do one of our mental health courses. Alternatively, you can book Headucation for your school.