It’s safe to say the evolution of technology has provided us with opportunity, convenience and instant connectivity. Your phone is an entertainment device, a business tool and even a part-time baby sitter. But has this come at any cost?
A 2014 study has shown that smartphones are making some of us lazier human beings. While we are still trying to understand the impact of rapid technology use, research is showing the negative impact it’s having on our kids.
You’re probably thinking, how can a little screen time be harmful to my child? Well let’s take a look at the current situation of technology use and how this may impact your child’s development.
Technology use among children today
In 1970, children began to regularly watch TV at 4 years of age. Whereas today, children begin interacting with digital media at 4 months according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Research from the Common Sense Media zero to eight survey, show that nearly all children (98%) aged 8 and under have access to some type of mobile device. According to the survey, the average amount of time spent with mobile devices each day has tripled again. Going from 5 minutes a day in 2011 to 15 minutes a day in 2013 to 48 minutes a day in 2017.
Exactly what young children are doing on mobile devices has not been studied in detail, because usage is relatively new. Yet, not surprisingly, most parents report that Netflix and YouTube were among the popular apps used.
Child development risks from using technology
The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines many development risks that can be attributed to media use.
Here are some of the findings which we find alarming.
In 2017, The Centres of Disease Control and Prevention identified about 18.5% (about 13.7 million) of American children and adolescents are obese.
Breaking this down further, obesity prevalence was:
- 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds
- 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds
- 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds
You would agree that these figures are worrying. So what is causing these high numbers?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, high levels of media use are linked to obesity and cardiovascular risk throughout someone’s life, but the key signs start in early childhood.
For example, screen use for more than 2 hours a day during preschool years will likely lead to small but significant increases in BMI (Body mass index). This sets the stage for greater weight gain later in childhood.
While diseases like depression and anxiety have been known to exist for centuries, they have been better understood in the last 20 years. One of the key things we have learned is that it can be diagnosed in young children.
A recent 2018 study published in the Preventive Medicine Reports journal found that young people who spend seven hours or more a day on screens are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety than those who use screens for an hour a day.
The study also goes on to find that among 14 to 17 year-olds, high users of screens (7+ h/day vs. low users of 1 h/day) were more than twice as likely to ever have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety than those who used a screen for upto an hour a day.
Further, young people who spent seven hours or more a day on screens (not including schoolwork) are more easily distracted, less emotionally stable and had more problems finishing tasks and making friends.
Learning & development
A child’s brain is like a sponge. Their learning capacity during their early lives is enormous.
The Federal government through the National Institutes of Health, is currently undergoing one of the largest studies to understand the impacts of screen time to the physical structure of children’s brains, as well as their emotional development and mental health.
While it is still ongoing, early findings from the study show that kids who spent more than two hours per day on screens scored lower on language and thinking tests.
This supports previous findings from the Academy of Pediatrics. Their studies continue to show links between excessive TV viewing in early childhood and delays in cognitive, language and social/emotional skills.
What impact this will have we really don’t know yet. Time will tell.
Sleep is important for everyone’s health and well being, especially for children.
Research suggests that too much time spent on screens will have a negative impact on sleep. According to an article published in the Sleep Medicine publication, more adolescents in 2015 (vs. 2009) slept less than 7 hours a night.
The research found electronic device and social media use increased the odds of short sleep duration.
As your kids get into their adolescent ages, it’s important to not only keep track of social media use, but also the amount of time spent gaming. In May 2019, the world health organisation classified “Gaming disorder” into its list of diseases for the first time.
While gaming can contribute to many of the issues highlighted above, the addictiveness causes kids to spend too much time on devices. Often this occurs after school which has a follow on impact on the amount of sleep time.
How to keep your kids off screens?
Get them thinking
Getting your kids to read from an early age can help with their cognitive and language development. Their minds soak up every page and provide them with a thirst for knowledge.
While some studies have shown that there is no advantage of having kids start to read early, it does open them up to the world of literature and expands their imagination.
Reading is an activity that will last a lifetime – so they’ll thank you in due course.
How much fun did you have in the school lab producing coloured smoke or creating a mini volcano? Loads, exactly!
So why do we confine these activities to the classroom? There’s a variety of experiments that are suitable and safe for kids of all ages, just check out these for a few ideas.
What better way to take you back to the good old days than getting your LEGO out and teaching your kid how to use it.
LEGO has been around for decades and is only becoming more popular with the LEGO master TV show. It’s hours of fun and easy to get going.
Here’s some LEGO challenge ideas to get you started.
Food is a necessity and will always play a major part of our lives. Teaching your child cooking skills will only be a benefit to them in their later lives.
TV Shows like Junior masterchef have inspired a new breed of chefs and young people are becoming more interested in how to cook. The added benefit is that you may even get a cooked breakfast out of it someday!
Check out Eatright’s tips on getting kids to cook.
Spark their creativity
From complex Lego sets to working with plain building blocks, kids have a natural drive for building. This is another activity that has many options for all ages.
Your early childhood kids can stay indoors and play with blocks, whereas those that are safe to wield a hammer can be taught the ins and outs of the shed.
Get them to create a go kart, a kennel for the new pet, or even tinker with some electronics. Or if they’re really up for the challenge, why not try to invent something new? See the Little Inventors for inspiration.
Learn to play an instrument
Learning to play music has so many benefits for young people, its hard to know where to start.
Many studies show that learning to play music has a direct influence on improving verbal intelligence. It is also known to improve math skills, memory, attention and concentration, social skills, increased coordination, and achievement and discipline.
With this huge list of positives, not to mention the hours of time where they don’t need parent supervision, its a no brainer! The only downside is that you may need to invest in a good set of ear plugs.
Paint like your Picasso!
Painting is the ultimate creativity expression for any child. Most children grow up having an easel at home but often these are a fad and only see a small amount of attention.
Giving your child some challenges and direction can really help keep them focussed. There are many resources that you can find online to assist, here’s one to get you started.
Gardening and growing
The stereotypical retired couple is the image you’re most likely seeing when the word gardening appears. But you might underestimate how interesting and beneficial it is for kids to learn how to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
Teaching kids the process of growing and cultivating plants is not only educational. It can lead them into discovering the basics of agriculture and an insight into the culinary world.
Eatright, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, has some good information about how to get started in getting kids involved in growing food.
Get them active
Sign them up to a local club
What better way of keeping your children entertained than to have a regular activity that they attend and get to hang out with their friends. Signing your kids up to a local sports team has multiple benefits.
Not only will they stay active, they also develop social skills and a sense of competitiveness. Some popular sports include soccer and even swimming, but if you’re not sure you can get some help to find the right sport for your child.
If a sport is not their thing, you can try getting them involved in Scouts, where they’ll learn everything about the outdoors.
Setup an activity around the house
When i was growing up, I spent an incredible amount of time in both the front and back yard. One day I would be practicing my David Beckham free kicks, the next shooting hoops like Shaquille O’Neal. Either way I underestimated how much fun I had with both of these activities.
It doesn’t take much to setup a basketball ring or a goal, but the amount of time they can keep your kids occupied can be huge! Have a think about what activities you can setup around the home to keep them busy.
Another pastime of my youth which had taken up hundreds of hours was riding around on my bike. Getting on your bike gives you freedom and that’s an incredible feeling for any kid. Bike riding is an all-age activity, so you can even take your toddler for a spin. But for any adolescent child, their bike is how they get around.
Cycling also opens up the world of mountain bike riding and even engineering, as many teenagers often look at upgrading and improving their wheels.
Don’t forget winter sports
When winter sets in, its easy to keep the kids distracted by turning on the Playstation or passing along your mobile phone. While its not as easy for some, if you have access to snow and mountains, then a great idea is to get them learning how to ski or snowboard.
If they don’t quite like the snow or its not an option, then you can always try indoor sports such as rock climbing or bowling.
Indoor active games
Ok so its a rainy day, there’s no snow and you just can’t take the kids out for whatever reason. What better way to keep them occupied than with some indoor games!
For me the go to games are ping pong, pool or foosball. Ping pong was a favourite childhood pastime where I would spend hours a day perfecting my serve or backhand. What’s also great is that these activities encourage social interactions and competitiveness.
Puzzles, board games and cards
The ultimate classics in family and holiday entertainment! There are no shortage of options here and this category provides something for everyone.
For younger children, you can start them off with games such as Go Fish, Dominoes, or Guess Who Junior. Whereas your older children and teenagers will be more interested in a game of Monopoly, Trivial pursuit or even learning poker.
Board games and cards are great because they encourage social interaction but they do require more than 1 player. Puzzles on the other hand can be enjoyed on their own, like solving a rubix cube.
Better weather? Then try an outdoor game.
Here you have an endless number of activities that you could try. You just don’t know what you’re kids will love more, so try as many as you can.
The popular games that come to mind are trampolining, roller skating, skateboarding, throwing a football or frisbee, or a simple game of hopscotch. This list of Kid’s activities has a good range of ideas to get you started.
Get a dog
Last but not least, man’s best friend can come to the rescue. If all else fails, a pet can often provide a necessary distraction for kids.
Dogs need attention and need to be cared for. This can often be a good lesson of responsibility for kids – as they learn to feed, wash and walk the dog.
While we are only referring to dogs here, cats and other pets can also fill a similar need.
Set rules and boundaries
After reading this list, you may be thinking that you’ve exhausted all these options and your kids are still spending hours on their screens.
Well its also important to set rules and boundaries from the beginning. Phones, laptops, gaming consoles should be treated rewards for good behaviour or completion of other tasks.
This might sound easier than it actually is, but there are tools that can help. The American academy of pediatrics have created an online resource called the Family Media Plan, which can help parents and kids think about media use and align rules and goals with their values.
There are also many apps that you can download on your device, such as Screentime, which can enforce time limits.