By Jan Gaffney – Principal
Kia ora Koutou whānau
There is so much to take into account when working with children and such a lot of conflicting advice that comes out in increasingly large amounts. This is particularly the case with screen time. I read recently that from quite a young age, children were regularly watching screens for up to seven hours a day. This includes TVs, tablets, phones and more, and includes those times when children are in shops/waiting rooms where there is usually a big screen conveniently located. Also this number of 7 hours only counts time spent ‘out of school’ so for those children in today’s typical schools where each child has their own device, that number could well increase.
For the longest time, The American Paediatrics society recommended no screen time for children under two. While they maintain this as the ideal, they have however also acknowledged that it is almost impossible to avoid exposing young children to screens of one sort or another in today’s world, so instead are now saying to ensure that the total amount of exposure is monitored and have conceded that things such as skyping with Nanna do have other benefits so perhaps could be included.
Increasingly, we are hearing about devices (lap tops, tablets, phones) becoming synonymous with modern school environments and best practice in teaching and learning. After having read more and seen some in action, I remain convinced that our approach here at Wā Ora of limiting screen time while children are young is the right one.
The literature more and more tells us how young children’s brains are actually changing because of over-exposure to screens; in fact recently I read about how adults’ brains are changing as well. One study found that increasing numbers of adults are being diagnosed with ADHD, even though they have had no signs of this as children. Teenagers’ brains are also affected, especially those who are addicted to being on-line and gaming. Studies have shown loss and shrinkage in grey matter and damage to the area that controls empathy.
It’s a worry when you see groups of children/teens/adults out together but instead of looking at each other, they are staring at their screens or interspersing their conversation with texts and on-line behaviour. It is increasingly rare to see people out and about without their phone handy.
The problem is that screens can be very useful tools and help us in many ways. So then, what can we do to put limits in place – for ourselves and for our children – to stop the over-use and limit the addiction, that we adults, just as much as the children, experience?
We can simply start by keeping technology out of the bedroom – the blue light from the screen interrupts sleep, so instead, charge your phone in the living room and get an old fashioned alarm clock for your bedside. We can have designated screen-free times; meals would be a great time for this, as would ‘family fun nights’ or whatever you do as a family to be together. As adults we should model for our children (and I find this one really hard) not looking at our screens in the morning before school/work and not looking at them for an hour or so before bed time. All simple strategies that can help to pull back over-use.
You may also have other techniques that you use – it would be great to share these on our face book page. I’d love to hear what you do!