It has been suspected for a while and now a study has also identified a link. Young children who spend lots of time on mobile screens are more likely to have problems sleeping and managing their behaviour, new research has found.
Deakin University researchers Sumudu Mallawaarachchi and Dr Sharon Horwood found that the more time toddlers and preschoolers spend on smartphones and iPads, the greater risk of negative impacts on their social, emotional, and cognitive development.
And mobile screens may have a different impact in comparison with older technologies such as televisions, Dr Horwood said.
“Given how critical early childhood is in terms of the vast amounts of brain development that occurs, the sooner we can establish healthy habits and lifestyle behaviours, the less challenges young children are likely to face as they develop,” she said.
ON THE FRONTLINE
The study does not specify what impact this has on children once they reach school age. But those in the field believe excessive technology use is negatively impacting some children. Lucas Felstead, Principal of Our Lady Help of Christians School in Earlville, said he believed it could be “stealing time” from some families and reducing kids’ exposure to important character-building experiences.
“This is being compounded by the distortions of social media, where everyone is ‘living their best life’,” he said.
“Imagine for a moment the impossibility of an overly protected ‘reality deficient’ individual engaging with social media as a life raft to what is normal in the world. A world polarised by bullying, trolling and pornography at one end, and the mirage of beauty and popularity at the other. This is a world many adults struggle to navigate, let alone the mind of a child.”
Angela Bulmer, a Prep teacher at MacKillop Catholic College in Mount Peter, said most of us being “time poor” with “deadlines to meet, places to go and people to see” was a major issue, and maintaining a work/life balance could be challenging.
She also believed, in some cases, that excessive screen time could be replacing key developmental activities such as exercise, play, reading aloud and social interactions.
“Interestingly, the Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card from 2018 found that: In a house where television was on two hours a day or screens for the same amount of time, the occupants of that house will speak 6000 words combined to each other in a day. In a house where screens were on whenever anyone was home, the occupants of that house would speak 500 words combined,” she said.
Lucas said getting involved with their child’s school was a great place for parents to start.
“We aim to partner with parents, to teach our young people the skills to strive to be their best, have a go and how to respond to failures and setbacks so that they can be a valuable learning opportunity, instead of experiences to be avoided.”
“We aim to teach young people how to think critically about the information they may read or see online, and work in partnership with parents about online safety. None of us are perfect. But together we are better.
“If your child is having friendship issues, getting in trouble at school or sport, ask them what role their behaviour played in this. Challenge them, as it is through this challenge that they grow in character, developing personal agency and responsibility. Teaching them to bounce back, rise up and overcome their struggles, instead of blaming, is a gift many of us never saw our parents giving us, but it was definitely given.”
Children needed to feel valued and supported, Angela said. “Every child is different and what strategies may work for one child, may not work for another. The key is to find their strengths, build their skillset and find what they are interested in,” she said.
“Making the time with them is ever so important. Listen to what your child is saying and try to understand them from their perspective. Build on problem-solving skills especially when there are issues.
“Have fun with your child. New experiences sometimes ignite new interests and learnings. Develop skills for managing distressing situations – for example, find as many calming activities as you can. When faced with emotional hurdles, learning and knowing how to regulate your emotions is an important life skill.”
The Triple P – Positive Parenting Program is available free to all Queensland families and aims to give parents a raft of ideas to help them raise happy kids, set routines, respond to challenging behaviour and more.
Carol Markie-Dadds, the organisation’s Country Director, said while there had always been a percentage of children with challenging behaviours, the disruptions of COVID-19 and online bullying had added new dimensions, including more anxiety and worries.
“Children do best when their parents stay calm, no matter what is happening around them,” she said.
“Rather than solve problems for them, parents can help guide their children through the process. Listen and identify the problem you’re trying to solve, brainstorm solutions together, put your plan into action, and review it with the teacher at regular intervals.”
Excessive screen time could eat into sleep and study time and lead to children missing out on other activities important for their development, Carol said.
“There are also more subtle problems such as parents having less time and being distracted, and kids being exposed to alarming news headlines and conspiracy theories – and adult content,” she said.
“While technology has many benefits and is a part of everyday life, it’s important to have times when we all switch off, such as at mealtimes or an hour or two before bedtime. Agree with your child on when and where devices can be used and take an interest in what they are viewing. Store or charge devices in a family room overnight.
“Challenges can occur when it’s time to switch off and at first it can be helpful to set a timer to signal when it’s time to start ending their screen time. Praise your child when they follow the routine.”
Triple P offers seminars, individual sessions, groups, online programs, and more. Parents can tailor the advice to fit what works best for their family. Find out more about Triple P.
Caitlin Francis is a Digital Media Officer at Cairns Catholic Education