How we use screens has changed how we live our lives.
They make our education, work and social activities easier, quicker and slicker.
For a while now, we’ve seen debates about screen time pass in and out of the news cycle. One thing is for certain- too much screen time can impact our health.
You’ve probably even thought about your own screen time, as well as that of children in your care. But is it really that bad?
The truth is, no one is really certain. But some psychologists have expressed concern on the issue citing worrying impacts on brain matter and structure.
What are the effects of screen time?
Multiple studies have shown shrinkage in the parts of our brain that are important for executive functions including: planning, processing, organising, completing tasks and impulse control.
But others say that experts are never going to be able to provide a definitive answer to the question of how much is too much, when it comes to screen time.
There are many factors involved and context is everything. For young people there are positive aspects of screen time, like creating artwork, playing or watching problem solving and educational games/videos. These can all be stimulating for the brain and greatly beneficial for young people and their development.
The Facts on Screen time According to Ofcom (2019):
• 63% of 12-15-year-olds think they achieve ‘a good balance between screen time and doing other things’
• 71% of older children are allowed to take their phones to bed
• 5-15-year olds now spend 20mins more online than they do in front of a TV.
• 35% of Young people are finding it more difficult to moderate their screen time, an increase from 27% last year.
Like all things in life, moderation is key when it comes to screen time. To help you get it right, we’ve put together 5 ways you can support yourself and young people in your care to take back control of their screen time.
1. Take regular breaks
Spending too much time looking at screens can make our eyes dry and strained. It helps if we take a break every 20mins. This only has to be for less than a minute, to let our eyes rest. You should advise young people in your care to take regular breaks and allow their eyes to refocus.
Top Tip: Our eyes use lots of muscles when we focus on things close up. You can rest your eyes by using a simple trick. For 20 seconds focus on something further away-your eyes will thank you.
2. Keep active during the day
Spending long periods using screens in class and at home usually means young people are sitting down. We all know how easy it is for young people to binge watch on Youtube or spend a long time chatting to their friends.
Being active during the day can offset the time they spend sitting down, and (strangely) help them (and you) feel more energetic.
The NHS says young people should be active (meaning slightly out of breath) for at least 60mins each day. This means their heart rate should be raised- as it would be if they were walking quickly.
Top Tip: If they enjoy listening to music while they're walking, challenge them to quicken up the pace; but make sure they pay attention to their surroundings.
3. Know your limits
You have probably noticed that handy screen time function on some of your personal devices. This is an attempt to make us more ‘screen aware’.
Games can be addictive, and apps are ‘gamified’ to encourage young people to keep using them- but having healthy boundaries and regularly thinking and reflecting on your screen time together has substantial benefits for everyone’s health.
The trick here is deciding when they can use screens, rather than allowing them to get lost in messages and ‘losing time’ to games, apps and social media. It’s important that all responsibilities are taken care of before screen time e.g. homework, chores and family activities.
Top Tip: A simple trick is to agree some time with young people before they use a screen. An example would be telling a young person they can play games for 1hr- some people even set timers to keep track (using a screen, probably)
4. Screen free times/places
It can help to have designated times and places where phones are out of bounds, this can be during journeys after school, when relatives or family friends are visiting and of course family mealtimes.
Family mealtimes are important for checking in with young people in your care, to help them explore issues, reflect on positive aspects of their day and shared what they have learned at school. But when screens invade dinner time, no one is fully present. Encourage young people in your care to be present and interact socially away from screens. Of course, if a call or text is important, exceptions can be made.
Top Tip: Creating these shared rules with young people will increase their willingness to abide by and respect them
5. Be a role model
Someone once said “Children are great imitators. So, give them something great to imitate” they probably weren’t talking about screen time, but it still applies.
Young people in your care take their lead from us and the examples we set. Remember to be present when you’re talking to children in your care. We can all fall into bad habits of checking our phones during family time but keeping our own screen time in check gives us credibility and bargaining power when setting firm boundaries.
Top Tip: Be mindful of the quieter times where 1-2-1 conversations are possible, these can be the most vital moments in fostering a supportive relationship with young people in your care.
As technology continues to evolve and touch every part of our lives, the age-old advice of ‘everything in moderation’ stands up to how we should think about screen time.
- If you need support as a parent or carer you can contact family lives.
- If you have concerns about the immediate safety of a young person you should contact 999 immediately.