Picture the scene. It’s a winter evening in 1999. A family is in their living room. The curtains are drawn, the washing up is done, and now everybody is winding down. Toys and games are spread across the floor and two boys, aged five and twelve, have now finally settled down to a game of Snakes and Ladders. At the dining table, their sister has just put down her magazine. She might join in the next game. Their parents sit nearby, feet up, sharing stories about their day, talking and laughing together. Sometimes the five-year-old cheats by moving his counter a few extra spaces, but most of the time the children manage to sort out their own disagreements.
Scroll to the current year. A five-year-old boy sits on the sofa, his dad’s mobile phone balanced on his lap. He hunches over the phone, staring unblinkingly at the screen — he’s so close that his nose almost touches it. His body is rigid, his thumbs tap frantically as he races Thomas the Tank Engine against James the super-fast red engine. His older brother is upstairs, headphones on, playing an online shooter game, yelling excitedly down a microphone to invisible people. His teenage sister is shut up in her room on Snapchat, swapping selfies and gossiping with friends. Mum and Dad are somewhere in the house. Dad is in his office doing something on his computer — perhaps he’s working, perhaps he’s playing a game. Mum is at the dining room table scrolling down her phone, listlessly scanning Facebook.
We all know that increased screen time has had a significant impact on family life, to a greater or lesser extent, over the last twenty years. But what is the impact of technology on you and your family?
Here’s the good news:
The bad news:
There's a huge issue with safeguarding. If a child is bullied at school, then the bullies can follow them home virtually. Although all responsible parents put internet safeguards in place, it’s impossible to fully eliminate the danger of children seeing inappropriate material or talking to harmful people. Therefore, it’s vital to educate children, in an age-appropriate manner, about internet safety. Be aware of the dangers of digital addiction with children. Check the following article to find out more about child safekeeping and preventing online issues.
There are studies that suggest screen time doesn’t harm children’s mental health, including one by Oxford University that looked at more than 355,000 children. However, other studies disagree. NewAtlas talk about the negative implications of screen time with adolescents and their mental health. And MentalHealth builds upon that, using a different age group but still talking about young children.
The debate is inconclusive and ongoing. Therefore, it’s best to draw upon your own experiences for guidance. When you’ve spent more than an hour on your phone, catching up on Facebook or playing a computer game, how do you feel? Do you feel more or less content? How does screen time affect your mental health? When your child spends hours playing video games or chatting to friends on a tablet or smartphone, how does it affect their mood? Do they seem irritable and low-key? Are they reluctant to put their device down when it’s time? If your teenage son or daughter takes their smartphone to bed at night, do they sleep well or do they seem anxious and unhappy in the morning?
Declining Social Skills
One Sunday afternoon, my cousin invited a family for tea: two parents, both in their forties, and two children, a boy aged twelve and a girl aged seventeen. According to my cousin, they were all glued to their mobile devices for most of the afternoon. The girl and her mother were sending each other messages over Snapchat, the boy was immersed in a game, and the father kept glancing down at his phone to check for texts. There was very little social interaction, and needless to say, the friendship ended that day! This example highlights the addictive impact of technology. People can forget their manners, choosing computers over real interpersonal interaction. The danger is that the art of conversation and polite communication will, for some at least, be lost altogether.
Most parents have, at one time or another, used screen time as a diversion to stop children from becoming bored and disruptive. Who hasn’t handed their child a phone or an iPad in a restaurant or a doctor's waiting room? But learning patience and how to manage boredom are vital life skills that we are denying our children. "If people don't have the inner resources to deal with boredom constructively, they might do something destructive to fill the void," says Dr. Teresa Belton from the University of East Anglia. "Those who have the patience to stay with that feeling, and the imagination and confidence to try out new ideas, are likely to make something creative out of it.’
How does technology impact our physical wellbeing? "Text Claw" sore muscles and finger cramps caused by hours of tapping, scrolling and texting on mobile devices. It can cause repetitive strain injuries, inflammation of tendons and carpal tunnel. "Cell Phone Elbow" is a term that describes tingling and numb fingers which are caused by bending your elbow for extended lengths of time.
In the short term, it can help to apply heat and do wrist flexes by putting your hands together as if praying and pushing down. If the pain lasts more than a few days, then see a doctor.
Back and Neck Ache
When you see somebody slouching over a mobile device, their body rigid, it’s easy to see how neck and back problems arise. According to a study by imposture, 84% of young adults in the UK experience back pain mainly due to the over-use of computers, smartphones, and tablets. Imposture advises trying to hold your phone directly out in front of you, rather than down on your lap.
Staring unblinkingly at a screen and scrolling up and down to see tiny pictures and text can cause dizziness, dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches. Blinking is important, because it distributes fluid that nourishes our eyes with oxygen and other nutrients. There's also new evidence to suggest that staring at mobile devices for too long causes more than temporary eye strain and can trigger nearsightedness.
I understand the problems, but how can I help my family?
We can’t escape the positive and negative impact that technology has on our lives. Technology is embedded in the modern world, so we can’t and shouldn't unplug altogether. When your children engage in screen time, make it a more sociable experience by discussing the content with them. Choose sociable, physically active games that promote strength and coordination, such as Guitar Hero or Wii Dance. Educate your children so that they understand the importance of internet safety.
When considering screen time limits, read recommendations but draw upon your own experiences. Consider how you feel physically and mentally after an hour or more of screen time. Observe your child — study their moods, observe their posture and their eyes — and decide for yourself. Lead by example. If you don’t want your child to stare at their iPad when you have guests, don’t do it yourself. If you want your child to put mobile devices away at the dinner table or to leave their phone downstairs at night, then do the same.
It’s up to you.
If you feel that your child is falling behind in school and sports, you can also ask them if they like a certain sport and if they're interested in doing something different. Check out our rich database of Sports&Health Centers at TutorExtra. Now you can choose any sport or activity that your child might be interested in.