Screen Time, Internet Safety and Children's Brains
A note from your Guidance Officer
As the mother of an eleven-year-old and a digital dinosaur, I am experiencing the challenges of raising a child in a tech-world. My childhood was one, as many of you would relate to, of outside play, imagination, sports and activities with the television as a treat. As a mother, I hear myself, repeating the words "get off the tablet!" more times than I would like.
So, what do we know about these changes in our world and do they impact our children and their learning?
70% of children own a tablet and approximately 50% a mobile phone, with convenience and wishing children to be 'tech-savvy' being main parental reasons for their provision to their children. Recent Australian studies indicate 92% of 12-17-year-olds and 50% of 5-15-year-olds spend more than two hours a day on technology with an average child screen time to be 17 hours a week (3).
What's the harm?
A growing body of research links increased screen-time to overweight and obesity consequent to a decrease in physical activity and increased snacking due to adverts on TV and the internet targeting 'junk' foods for children. According to the South Australian Department of Health in pre-schoolers a child's risk of being overweight increases by 6% for every hour of television per day (1). Of greater concern, from an educational perspective, are the impacts of screen time on sleep, social skills and cognitive skills. Studies report in addition eyesight, posture, thumb, wrist and elbow concerns (2) with a 10% increase of attention-related problems for each hour of watching a day (1).
Psychologists now believe excess screen time goes beyong concerns of inappropriate content access, culture or even the addiction that occurs from gaming. More concerning is the damage that occurs in the frontal lobes of the brain. This critical area develops at an enormous rate during adolescence until the twenties and is responsible for success with well-being, relationships, academic success and careers (3). Scans of teenagers with identified screen addiction reveal that brain cells deplete. Effects include lowered cognitive functions, increased cravings and impaired dopamine functions potentially resulting in poor planning and impulse control and social functions (4) to include anxiety when separated from electronic devices (5).
How can you manage reducing screen time without inciting war?
Firstly, go slowly and remember it takes time to change your child's habits.
- Lead by example. Discuss the impact of screens with your child and discuss the impacts advertising may have on them.
- Create 'unplugged bedrooms' - no devices or screens.
- Create 'unplugged mealtimes' - allowing for more conversation.
- Have scheduled screen-time and eliminate screens for the hour before bed.
- Encourage books, jigsaw puzzles and board games - our family just got Pictionary and Cluedo from a local Op Shop and they are winners! It's so nice to connect with the children over a game and laughter.
- Encourage outdoor activities - especially at this glorious time of year in Mareeba.
I am not suggesting you eliminate screens altogether, as that may be almost impossible in this current age, but taking steps now to protect your child's brain will have a positive impact for their relationships, academic and emotional functioning in the future.
Screen Time and Sleep
Children (and adults!) using screens in the hour leading up to bed can be simulated rather than soothed, which affects how quickly they can fall asleep as well as how much quality sleep they get. The blue light on TVs, computers, phones and tablets can stop the brain producing melatonin, which is essential for sleep. Your child may find it hard to put down the device, if they are involved in a game, or can be tempted to chat to friends.
- Avoid screen use in the hour before bedtime and encourage books, play or quiet drawing.
- Exposure to violence on the screen can affect sleep, even when limited.
- Tell your children to say their parent won't let them on Kids Messenger or chat apps in the evening.
- Keep devices out of bedrooms.
Children aged 6-12 need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep a night.
Finally, a note on safe usage...
The internet today contains many sites that are designed to encourage children
and teenagers to communicate by messaging each other in real time. Many of these sites contain areas where children can post personal information about themselves including their name, age, location, photographs and contact details. Please take some time to discuss these on-line safety tips with your children:
- Never give out personal information on the net, like your full name, address, phone number or school, even sporting events attended, or locations of extra-curricular activities.
- Ensure your screen name does not reveal personal information about you.
- Review your online profile. Predators can use this personal information to find you.
- Only allow your friends to view your personal blog and profile.
- Never send your picture to someone you don't know.
- Don't accept invitations to view webcams from unknown internet users.
- Never arrange for face-to-face meetings with people met online.
- Understand predators ask personal questions and attempt to become friends quickly.
- Time chatting online to a person does not equal trust or knowing the person.
Teach children the 5 R's:
- REALISE - people you chat with may not be who they say they are, nor what age/sex they give.
- REFUSE - requests for personal information and ensure your internet profile is private.
- REVIEW - your contacts. It's not "cool" to have contacts you don't know.
- RESPOND - quickly if you ever feel uncomfortable while on-line. Close the program, tell your parents or a trusted friend.
- REPORT - any suspicious or danger on-line contact to the police
(Adapted from Queensland Police Service)
Enjoy the benefits of technology and enjoy quality time with your children.
Yours in wellness and health,
Wendy Harris-Gallichan, Guidance Officer
 South Australian Department of Health (2015) “Give the Screen a Rest. Active Play is Best"
 NSW Ministry of Health, NSW Department of Education, Office of Sport and the Heart Foundation (2016), “Switch off the screen"
 Jary, S (2015), “How much screen time is healthy for children?" PC Advisor
 Dunckley, V (2014), “Gray matters: too much screen time damages the brain," Psychology Today,
 Rosen, L (2015), “Iphone Separation Anxiety," Psychology Today
 Beard, C Ed. (2011), “TV and Kids: How to cut screen time," Web MD