Technology and screen time have brought many positives to modern life – it can seem easier to keep connected with friends and family. Technology means we have a wealth of information at our fingertips - we can be ‘entertained’ 24/7.
Alongside the benefits there are concerns about how it impacts on our health and wellbeing - with an increase in social pressure and a reduction in activity and face to face interactions.
It is a particular concern of how the use of screens may affect the health and wellbeing of children and young people now and in the future.
In 2015 a study by Ofcom found that the time 8-15 year olds spent online doubled between 2005 and 2015.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) records statistics for 30 countries in the developed world. Only Chile had a higher number of ‘extreme internet users’ than the UK (Social media and children’s mental health a review of the evidence - June 2017).
What Does This Mean For Children & Young People?
Screen light mimics daytime and supresses the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone...
The ‘Social media and children’s mental health a review of the evidence - June 2017’ showed evidence of a beneficial impact on wellbeing. Young people recognise the value of opportunities to connect online. It can increase social connections, and enable young people to develop their identities and creativity.
However research has also identified a range of risks associated with social media, including;
The evidence suggests a ‘dose-response’ relationship, where each additional hour a child views increasing the likelihood of socio-emotional problems and the risk of low self-esteem.
Supporting Parents & Carers
It is difficult for settings to offer advice to guide children and parents on the appropriate level of screen time. There are currently no hard research findings on what is a ‘safe level’ of screen use. However educating and supporting children and families to set realistic limits seems appropriate.
In January 2019 the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health issued this advice to families based on best evidence;
‘Our primary recommendation is that families should negotiate screen time limits with their children based upon the needs of an individual child, the ways in which screens are used and the degree to which use of screens appears to displace (or not) physical and social activities and sleep.’
Many phones will record the amount of screen time being used. There are also Apps available that track technology use. This can help children and young people manage screen use better.
The Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Digital 5 A Day’ helps young people to explore ‘a balanced digital diet and better wellbeing’.
Risk of Obesity
Heavy media use during preschool years is associated with small but significant increases in BMI and sets the stage for weight gain later in childhood (Media and young minds – 2016).
The same study of 2-year-olds found that BMI increased for every hour per week of media consumed. These associations are believed to be linked to exposure to advertising and eating whilst watching a screen.
Exposure to food advertising has both immediate and longer term impact on children’s health. It encourages greater consumption immediately after watching an advert as well as altering children’s food preferences (Childhood obesity: a plan for action chapter 2).
In Professional Settings
Public Health England
Public Health England School Zone have developed the following resources:
Active Kids Do Better
ActiveKidsDoBetter is free to all schools and includes a welcome pack and digital toolkit to help your class get moving.
Active Norfolk have developed some free resources, to help use physical activity to overcome and manage some of the challenges to learning the Covid-19 pandemic has presented. Resources include an e-learning module for professionals. Download this poster to promote the resources amongst colleagues.
School Wellbeing Activity Programme (SWAP) - free 6 week programme of evidence based lessons delivered in six one hour sessions. The programme is aimed at children aged 9-12 years old but can be adapted for other school age children. The four key themes are:
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health offers the following 3 downloadable guides on screen time:
'All Our Health' offer free, bite-sized e-learning sessions - to improve the knowledge, confidence and skills of health and care professionals in preventing illness, protecting health and promoting wellbeing. The sessions cover some of the biggest issues in public health including;
They contain signposting to trusted sources of helpful evidence, guidance and support to help professionals embed prevention in their everyday practice.
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