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Screen Time – The Implications

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Screen Time - Credit - Ron Lach
Photo Credit: Ron Lach

Screen time is the amount of time a child or anyone spends using a device such as a tablet, mobile phone, computer, games console or television. It is important to manage the amount of time we spend on these devices are there are negative implications for spending too much time in front of screen. It is also very important that parents and carers understand what activities are being consumed on the device. The goal is to have a safe online world for children, striking a balance between online activity and offline activity, ensuring that positive relationships continue to exists for them in the real world and that they are able to function in both their virtual world and real world.

The advancement of technology has meant that children can now learn much more online using devices. They are able to login into online classroom, they can complete their homework online, they can complete tests online, they can conduct research online, they can connect with their peers online as well as many forms of online entertainment and games. The Covid-19 pandemic has constituted further to the usefulness of devices and being able to easily access the internet and continue with their education while schools were closed.

From a behavioural standpoint it can enhance teamwork with online classmates, increase creativity giving children a wealth information to build their knowledge, practice focusing their attention, also taking away the anxiety surrounding in person social interaction for some children. It has been found that children with computers perform better academically and their outcomes and opportunities are better with access to technology.

Studies by Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University in 2017 found that when parents or carers set rules about digital screen time and were more actively engaged in exploring the digital world with the child, turning screen time into a more social activity, it could actually increase the child’s well-being and curiosity, as well as the bond between the child and caregiver. Lead author Dr Andrew Pryzbylski concluded that his findings suggest no support for the theory that digital screen use on its own is bad for children’s psychological wellbeing. The findings also reported that digital screen use increased with age and usage was higher in boys, non-white children, less educated caregivers and less affluent households. These findings suggest that more affluent families, usually more educated have the means to do other activities away from the screen, i.e. sports and other extra-curricular activities and have the financial means to travel away from the home more often.

A study by Unicef 2021 reported a growing concern that since the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more children have become used to spending most of their day watching screens. As it became their new way of learning via online classrooms, their new way to socialise and connect with friends and family, their way to play and watch entertainment. While technology has created great opportunities to change the way children learn and are educated, it has also increased the risks of being over exposed to harmful content, cyberbullying, privacy invasion, physical safety, lack of physical exercise, poor eating habits, reduced sleep quality, increased social anxiety and mental wellbeing.

It is imperative that children are protected from the harmful content on the internet. It is often found that inappropriate advertisements with violence or a sexual nature are shown to children. It has become a common problem for parents, carers and school to ensure that the platforms used by children are complicit with the requirement to safeguard children from harmful content.

In the UK the Online Safety Bill was passed in 2021 which works to hold technology companies to account to protect children from harmful content. The legislation outlines that it is illegal to show content that is harmful to children and that providers of the internet have a duty of care to introduce safety measures to the risks. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority also take complaints very seriously when it involves harmful advertising content. They investigate the complaint and when necessary ask the advertiser to amend or withdraw the advertisement appropriately. If the party refuses to comply they have the authority to place further pressure for compliance.

In the USA the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) 2000 also legislates the harmful content over the internet. It requires schools and libraries to provide protection for children when accessing their programs. It involves them monitoring the online activities of minors, teaching them about inappropriate online behaviour, the risks of social media website and cyberbullying.

The Safer Internet Day initiative is the reimagination of a safer internet for children, that prioritises their physical and mental health. To achieve this Unicef propose a number of required actions.

  • With the support of government agencies to train health care professionals, educators and social workers to deal with the impacts of the pandemic and the increased risks from online exposure on physical and mental health.
  • Governing and regulating the tech industry, search engines and social media sites amongst many others. To ensure they enforce safety and safeguarding measures for children, teachers and parents.
  • To support parents and schools to educate children on the risks of the internet and technology to reduce their exposure when online.
  • For schools to provide access to children to receive counselling services to support any issues with mental health or other concerns.

The impact of screen time on children’s wellbeing is on ongoing debate and requires much research before conclusive arguments can be made. However, it is clear that we all as a society have a duty of care and responsibility to protect children from the dangers of the internet. Focusing less on how long they are on the devices but more on what children are doing on the devices and what they are being exposed too. Many will also argue that is crucial for governments across the globe to regulate the technology companies themselves and hold them to account. Ensuring that technology companies put the necessary technological measures in place to reduce the risks for children and limit the access of online advertisers.

This page was last updated on 20, March, 2022

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Positives Implications

  • Focused attention
  • Virtual team work
  • Reduced social anxiety
  • Online learning
  • Online resources
  • Gaming and entertainment

Negative Implications

  • Exposure to harmful content
  • Cyberbullying
  • Privacy invasion
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Poor eating habits
  • Reduced sleep
  • Increased social anxiety
  • Negative impact on mental wellbeing

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