During the current covid-19 pandemic, we have generally spent more time indoors. Many children who were previously used to being classroom-based had to adapt to learning on screens much more.
A study conducted in 2013 found that 49% of school-aged children had more than two hours of screen time per day. This figure has almost certainly increased since the pandemic began when homeschooling was necessary across much of the world.
In addition to an increase in screen time, there have been reports that children’s mental health has taken a toll during the pandemic. According to research carried out by the University of Oxford, there has been an increase in children suffering from mental health difficulties over Covid-19. The report states that “Parents/carers of children aged 4-10 years of age reported that over a one-month period in lockdown, they saw increases in their child’s emotional difficulties, such as feeling unhappy, worried, being clingy and experiencing physical symptoms associated with worry.”
Managing a healthy level of screen time at school and at home has probably never been more challenging. We explore the different impacts screen time has on children and how to encourage a healthy balance.
The facts surrounding screen time
A lot of the scientific evidence behind screen time examines television screen time, so we are yet to see a significant number of studies that look at other types of screen time.
From studies conducted into screen time, it’s clear that there are different kinds of screen usage. Screen time can be beneficial for children’s development and educational needs if it is through controlled technology.
According to Janet Cooper, a speech and language therapist, one impact on children learning remotely could be “missing out on some of the subtle cues on remote conversations… it is a risk in terms of children being attuned to other people and picking up those cues”.
Research published in the BMJ supports a correlation between excessive screen time and a decline in well-being. The most prominent risks of excessive screen time evidenced were eye strain, less sleep, and the wealth of complications of being too sedentary and not moving enough.
There is much evidence surrounding the concept of children learning valuable skills through play. UNICEF suggests that digital technology can facilitate this type of development. They explain that “virtual platforms and social networks enable new cultural environments for play and artistic opportunities that can broaden a child’s horizons, provide opportunities to learn from other cultures and traditions, experience autonomy, and contribute toward mutual understanding and appreciation of diversity.”
There are many benefits of a play-based approach to learning, such as challenging children’s thinking, encouraging fact recall, and supporting a positive attitude towards learning.
It’s also important to remember that not all screen use is created equal. When screen time is interactive, it can encourage children to learn and help with retaining information. It can also provide valuable opportunities for children to socialize with friends and family and collaborate on projects.
What steps can educators and parents take to encourage a healthy amount of screen time?
Research shows that happy and healthy children perform better at school and that a good educational foundation sets children up for better health as adults. Ensuring students have a healthy amount of time outside is essential, whether that’s structured sports or playing games outdoors. Many studies display the cognitive benefits that come from spending more time outside. Encouraging students to connect to nature is an easy way to counteract some of the adverse effects that the pandemic has had on learners. These strategies help show children how to strike a balance between different activities and ensure they lead a healthy lifestyle.
Creating a visual timetable can also help younger children understand how their screen time fits into the wider day. For example, an image of a tablet or phone followed by a mealtime picture can help children learn that the screen goes away when it’s time for a meal. A parent or carer can create rules to ensure time limits and breaks are implemented at home, creating a healthy balance.
How will screen time look in the future?
We predict that screen time will continue to grow as the technology expands and demands of a tech-focused future evolve. Our children and young people are more digitally savvy than ever before, which is a significant and necessary part of modern-day life. Children will need to be able to navigate themselves through a digital landscape.
However, we do not believe this has to be viewed as a negative implication. As cited from UNICEF, “It is entirely possible to make digital technology work in children’s best interest. This will require less alarmism in the public debate and greater respect for children’s opinions.”
Do your students seem stressed or anxious? Explore our blog, which has tips on how to spot students with anxiety and practical strategies to support them.