In recent times there has been a lot said, and a lot claimed about the impact of mobile devices and the impact of screen time on children. And rightly so, screens and their impact on our society are still in their infancy. However, the discussion about the negative impact of new technology on children is not new. The previous generation of parents had the same concerns about TV, the generation before Rock and Roll. In fact, the discussions we are having today has a literature base indicating that similar discussions were taking place with the advent of the street lamp and also all children required to attend school in the 1800's.
It might surprise some people that when it comes to the impact of technology on children and their development, there is very little agreement among experts about if technology has a positive, neutral or negative impact.
There are many pieces of research that point to correlational links between the use of technology and the positive, negative and neutral impact findings that follow. Unfortunately, in most instances, only the negative correlational links of the impact of technology are reported and capture our attention.
However, there is a body of research literature that most experts agree on regarding the negative impacts of screens on young people. This literature base does not relate to the use of mobile devices directly, rather to the impact of TV. It is surprising that since studies conducted in the 80's about the impact of TV on young people, the vast body of research, including the more recent studies that include brain scans still study "passive screen time" impacts.
It is widely agreed by experts in their field that passive screen time probably needs to be considered differently to interactive screen time. Passive Screen time is when children view a screen, like the TV, that requires no input from the viewer. Interactive Screen time requires the user to make decisions and cognitively respond to the stimulus on the screen.
So what do most researchers agree on?
If screen time causes reduced sleep, then that will have a negative impact.
If not managed correctly, screens can affect sleeping patterns and the amount of sleep one has. There is a body of literature that shows a correlation between children having a TV in their room and reduced sleep, and a reduction in the amount of deep sleep. There is over 50 years of literature that documents the effects of sleep deprivation, including the negative impact on children. A major study in the 1980's indicated a strong correlation of screens in bedrooms or sitting close to a TV screen and reduced sleep.
It is believed that when our eyes are close to screens, the light they emit and the amount of light our eyes then collect affects our internal body rhythm which causes us to think we should stay awake. Also, when what we are viewing on screens contains a lot of stimuli before sleeping, it also affects the amount of dopamine and cortisol in our system which again does not help sleep. Most experts agree that minimising the impact of screens before sleep will reduce any possible negative impact. This is not limited to screen use however, it includes anything that causes an increase in dopamine and cortisol. However, the dose is the poison. One-off events are not going to cause harm, rather ongoing occurrences do. Anything that causes a cumulative sleep reduction is a bad thing.
When children are involved in prolonged sedentary activities two things happen. The first is children do not move as much which affects muscle and bone development as well as the number of calories burnt. The second is they tend to eat more than they normally would. This applies to any sedentary activity that is prolonged over a cumulative period.
Change to reaction when exposed aggression - coming in my next post!