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Is your smart phone really destroying your child’s health?

child smart phone

Raise your hand if you have a smart phone. Keep your hand up if your child knows how to use it. And finally, if your child has a smart phone or tablet of their own keep that hand in the air.

If we were doing this in a room full of parents, I’d guarantee at least 50% of you would have your hand up at the end (no shame in that either).

Your child is naturally curious and wants to copy what you do. So, it’s no surprise that half of UK 10-year-olds now own a smart phone (Ofcom, 2019), is it?

There’s no avoiding the headlines about what technology and social media is doing to our minds. And more importantly, the minds of your children. Documentaries like ‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix hardly make us feel comfortable about what the future holds either.

What harm does technology actually have on your child’s health?

In a study conducted by Ofcom in 2019 it was discovered that children aged 3-4 spent on average nearly 5 hours (4hrs 42min) playing games online a week. And 65% watch video on demand (YouTube or Netflix). That doesn’t seem that bad, does it?

Let’s put it into perspective. Many streaming services and web browsers allow you to put a parental lock on. This means there’ll be some form of censorship about what they see.

What is concerning is what’s it teach our children about patience? If they can see or get access to anything in a matter of seconds, where’s the incentive to work or seek out information on their own?

Also, what about the cost? This report found that nearly half (47%) of parents were worried about the pressure to spend money on games too. Whether it’s a tablet or an Xbox, these things don’t come cheap. And the spending doesn’t stop with the purchase of the device does it?

The director of the research group, Yih-Choung Teh, said:

‘I’m conscious that for these children who have never known world without the internet, in many respects their online and offline worlds are indistinguishable.’

Technology isn’t all bad though…

 Whilst that tiny computer sat in your pocket or on your desk could harbour some threat, it also gives you power and potential.

A report by the OECD found that moderate (not 5 hours a day) internet use can help children build relationships with their peers. In addition, some technology can support good reading habits, such as eReaders or even the Readingmate app! Seeing children’s obsession with smart phones is why we created our app in the first place!

The aforementioned report also states that research around the impact of technology on our minds is ‘still a work in progress’. Most of the media around technology focusses only on the ‘risks rather than the rewards’.

Basically, we haven’t seen the full life cycle of or impact on a human that’s grown up in this technology and internet age. We don’t know the full effect on your child’s health and shouldn’t really make assumptions (good or bad) until we’ve all the facts.

Top tips to keep your child’s smart phone and technology habits under control:

1. Make sure there’s a time limit on your child’s smart phone use

You’ve all done it, you pick up your phone to add something to your shopping list. 10 minutes later…you find yourself on Instagram having completely forgotten why you picked up your phone in the first place. I do it all the time! So, give your child a 15-20 minute timer of ‘screen time’ to eliminate time being wasted.

2. Try not to use screen time as a ‘reward’

I use this with my students a lot. Having noticed that many students now use technology as a relaxing or ‘free time’ option, you want to avoid that. Don’t eliminate it completely but offer other alternatives as a ‘reward’ for good behaviour. For example, doing some baking, reading a book, choosing a magazine at the supermarket, doing crafts, going to the park, phoning their friend. This way your child will see there’re lots of other appetising things on offer!

3. Give it purpose

the use of suggested content makes this one hard but not impossible. Before you give the device to your child, get them to tell you explicitly what it is they are going to watch/do. If it’s watch their favourite YouTuber, get them to type in the name (great way to incorporate literacy) and topic/subject they’re interested in. If it’s a game they want to play, get your child to tell you how far they got last time and where they want to get to next time.

4. Use technology for something different

Your child probably sees tablets/phones as a portal into games and YouTube. Why not use it to research their favourite character, find a recipe, look at an exotic place on Google Earth, research the weather, Facetime a relative?

5. Keep you child’s smart phone out of their bedroom

It sounds obvious but it is much harder to take something away once it’s already been given. If you have devices in a communal space, you can keep an eye on them and what they’re doing!

6. No screens for at least an hour before bedtime

Without getting too ‘sciencey’ (it’s not my forte) the blue light affects melatonin (sleep hormone) production and can affect sleep. If you want a peaceful evening catching up on Bake Off, keep those screens away!

Like with any aspect of your child’s life, technology is just something that can be used but needs to be monitored. Because it’s not going anywhere so we need to learn to use it in a safe and manageable way.

Think of it like this, if you were baking with your four-year-old, would you leave them unattended next to a hot stove? No. The same goes for the iPad. Okay, it won’t potentially cause third-degree burns. But we just don’t know enough about them yet to allow your child to have free reign.

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