Do screens benefit children?

Satisfied kid boy using tablet to play playing learning application, lying under a white blanket in the bedroom at night, the blue light of the screen reflects his face.
Experts believe that restricting the use of a screen is not an option, but changing the behavior around interacting with it is crucial.

By Daniel Casillas, MWN

Children spend plenty of hours in front of the screens, despite the fact that the World Health Organization recommends keeping the time of exposure to a minimum. A study published by JAMA Pediatrics journal confirmed that this time has been increasing significantly over the past 17 years.

According to the research results, among children under the age of two, daily screen time increased from 1.32 hours in 1997 to 3.05 hours in 2014 just in the U.S. with television being the most popular screen, accounting for 86 and 78 percent of total screen time for the 0-2 and 3-5 age groups, respectively.

An investigation conducted by the British company Tonies in Europe and the U.S, children’s exposure has increased during the quarantine implemented due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 66 percent of parents surveyed said their children had spent more time in front of screens during the lockdown. 

“The lack of physical activities is one of the main concerns in relation to screen time. For example, TVs in children’s bedrooms are found to increase the risk of obesity. Other researchers have found that excessive use of smartphones and tablets might have a negative effect on children’s development in relation to social adjustment,” Amin Al-Habaibeh, professor of intelligent engineering systems at Nottingham Trent University, explained to Metro.

Although screens are associated with negative effects, some studies suggest that they may also bring some benefits to children.

“Viewing educational programs as preschoolers was associated with higher grades, reading more books, placing more value on achievement, greater creativity, and less aggression,” a paper called ‘Early childhood television viewing and adolescent behavior: the recontact study’ published at PubMed, stated.

As smartphones and tablets are now in almost every house and due to their ease of use, children become attached to such electronic devices at a very young age. Then when they grow up, video games become another screen attraction, Al-Habaibeh believes. And given the situation, experts recommend learning to live with them and change our perception. 

“It is not about restricting the use of a screen, but changing the behavior around interacting with it. It’s time to change our perception that watching a ‘screen’ does not necessarily be in an idle position. Technology can allow us to be in an online meeting while walking and we can cycle and watch TV at the same time. It is about practicing responsible screen time,” Hyunjae Daniel Shin, senior lecturer in product design at Nottingham Trent University, concluded.

Metro chatted with Hyunjae Daniel Shin to learn more.

Why did screen exposure among children become a global problem? 

Lifestyle today, especially due to the impact of COVID-19, puts children to be more exposed to the screen. TV is not an only media source for them anymore although they watch it around 14 hours a week. They watch more online (21 hours a week) and on mobile phones (18 hours).

Screen-time is an inevitable element within our daily life now, but this practice tends to happen in an idle position such as sitting down. We call this behavior sedentary, which is one of the key factors contributing to chronic diseases such as obesity. In a more simple term, more screen-time means fewer physical activities, especially in the home environment. 

What health problems can excessive screen time cause?

There is no scientific data saying that screen time directly harms health. However, one study found that every hour of TV viewed after the age of 25 reduced the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. However, the physical inactivity leading to childhood obesity is a bigger problem, as nearly 1/3 of senior nations children are classed as either overweight or obese. According to the WHO, the expected time of exercising is children and youth aged 5-17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes on a daily basis of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity. However, many homes and parents have been struggling to get their children more active especially during the lockdown.

Are there any benefits?

Post-COVID-19 we will be connected with the outside world via screens. They provide effective communication to learning sources and meeting friends and family within the ‘distant economy.’ A screen will play a significant role in shaping our future lives, we just need to make sure that this phenomenon does not harm people’s health at home. 

How to help children become more physically active?

Parent support is key. But it is quite challenging to control their screen time as we spend more time at home. 41 percent of parents of 12-15 year olds find it hard to control their child’s screen time according to the latest Ofcom Children and Parents: Media use and attitudes report. But on a positive note, our survey shows that 72 percent of parents feel fairly confident about controlling their children’s screen time during the pandemic. Our research team has been conducting studies around this challenge and previously suggested a model of exercising as a way to earn points to watch more TV or screen time. Building sympathy between parents and children through goal setting is a key strategy. There are several tactics to do this. Develop a visual diagram to track their screen time. This allows them to learn about how to manage set goals for screen use.

Build positive cues for doing more exercise rather than penalizing the overuse of the screen. Be a good role model to encourage your children in reducing sedentary behavior.


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