"79 of 5-7-year-olds go online for 9 hours a week."
Due to this, many parents around the western world have raised the negative issues technology is having on their children — whether this is reducing their young one’s physical activity or not being as confident as they should be in a range of social situations. Here, we explore the effects of technology on children’s health and ability to socialise…
How popular are devices?
Devices are sweeping our homes as BARB reported that at the end of last year, 11.54 households across Britain has one television, 8.66 million had two, 4.11 million had three and 1.75 had four. Another recent survey by Samsung found that UK households also have on average 18 smart devices — including mobiles, tablets and TVs — while other research has forecasted that iPad use will increase to 18.1 million users by 2019. Although this data doesn’t indicate how much time parents and guardians allow their kids to consume technology, it at least suggests that most kids at least have access to several devices regularly in their homes. For some people, this opportunity can make it easier for youngsters to opt for sedentary activities, rather than playing sports or physical games, which could impact negatively on their physical fitness.
What technologies can we expect to see next? Smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, are growing in popularity in the UK. Futuresource found that there was a global year-on-year increase of 212% in smart speakers in 2017, with the UK and US estimated to be the key markets — accounting for an approximate 89%. Clearly, UK families enjoy their gadgets, and smart speakers offer a quick and easy way to access information. Although smart speakers are convenient and can help children learn facts quickly, do they also remove the need for kids to explore ideas when they have an answer only a spoken question away — and could this impact on their ability to debate and discuss ideas with peers?
With social networking websites, people believe that socialising is not an issue. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow kids to maintain relationships with friends who perhaps live many miles away, while programs like Skype help teachers conduct one-to-one tuition sessions in a virtual classroom. From a safety perspective, smartphones also allow kids to easily keep in touch with their parents when they aren’t in their care, which is certainly a bonus. What’s more, a report by Unicef discovered that technology helped kids boost their existing relationships with friends, while also assisting those who struggled to socialise easily in person.
There are many benefits to the use of technology, but using it too much could be damaging. Research carried out at Newcastle University found that primary school kids who consumed up to three hours of television a day grew up to be better communicators at secondary school. However, watching any more than three hours was believed to lead to poorer linguistic skills. Bad communication could significantly impact our kids’ ability to make connections, participate in the classroom and promote themselves during university and first-job interviews — so how much TV are our kids watching? According to an Ofcom 2017 media use report:
· 96% of 3-4-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 15 hours a week.
· 95% of 5-7-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 13.5 hours a week.
· 95% of 8-11-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14 hours a week.
· 91% of 12-15-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14.5 hours a week.
However, the developments in technology have allowed young people to consume media in a range of different formats — making it difficult to monitor. Although these statistics might indicate that children aren’t consuming more than the three-hour-a-day limit per week, this report also showed that more than 48% of each age group — 90% in the 12-15-year-old category — also watched YouTube videos on top of TV.
Many theories have been released discussing how technology can impact the socialising skills among children. Melissa Ortega, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York, claims that children use their phones as an “avoidance strategy” and can have trouble initiating “those small talk situations”. Similarly, Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston Medical Center, states that kids “learn by watching,” and suggests that if they aren’t engaging in physical socialisation, keeping their eyes instead on their smartphones and tablets, then they are missing out on important communication development stages.
How does technology influence physical health? As we’ve seen from the above figures, most children are engaging with technology for several hours a week — which could be time spent enjoying physical activities. According to the Ofcom report:
· 53% of 3-4-year-olds go online for 8 hours a week.
· 79% of 5-7-year-olds go online for 9 hours a week.
· 94% of 8-11-year-olds go online for 13.5 hours a week.
· 99% of 12-15-year-olds go online for 21 hours a week.
As you can see, a lot of people are spending a lot of time online. Worryingly, only 9% of parents claim that their children (aged 5-16 years) achieve the government’s recommendation of one hour a day of physical activity. 60 minutes is reportedly the least amount of time needed to maintain good health, however, it appears that the trend for social media, video games, YouTube, Netflix and other technology may be causing a reduction in physical activities.
Is there any proof that technology is the root cause of a decrease in physical activity? Since the major advances in technology have been recent, we could look at childhood fitness in previous generations. The World Health Organization has reported that the number of obese young adults aged 5-19 years has risen tenfold in the past 40 years. Although diet and education may also be to blame, technology should arguably also be held partially accountable for this global problem.
However, other people argue that tablets and online alternatives encourage young people to become more physically active. YouTube is packed with tutorial videos that can help kids get into and practice a particular sport, while games like Nintendo Wii combine the virtual world with physical movement. Then, you have a host of engaging, child-friendly apps for everything from yoga to running that are designed to get kids off the sofa, plus plenty of after-school sports clubs that have Facebook and Twitter accounts to persuade kids surfing online to join.
Encouraging physical activity and prioritising social skills
There are many benefits and disadvantages regarding technology’s impact on physical activity and social skills. Fighting a battle against technology might be impossible, so here are some tips on getting children engaging in physical activities to boost their fitness and social skills:
· Think of fun group activities that your kids can work at and improve in.
· Ask your kids not to use phones at the table during mealtimes, so that you can make time for conversation.
· Look through the App Store on your child’s phone together to find apps that encourage physical activity — that way, they get to keep their phone while moving more.
· Encourage physical activity at children’s parties – perhaps by going to a soft-play area.
· Walk or cycle to school together.
· Organise a family hike somewhere different one weekend every month.
· Check out what clubs your child’s school offers and ask if they want to get involved — this could be sport-based or not, as long as it gets them off their tablets and socialising.
· Ban your child from taking their smartphones and tablets to bed with them to limit the time they spend online before going to sleep — the blue light emitted from devices harms sleep quality which is vital to well-being.
Technology may have its downfalls on physical health, but it can be supportive for young people. Devices are fine if not overused, so limit your child’s time and incorporate some of the above tips into your family life to ensure that the rising trend for technology doesn’t mean your child misses developing socially and physically.