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The screen time debate: what impact does it really have on children?

Section: Toys & Education
The screen time debate: what impact does it really have on children?

With a generation that is almost completely digital and screen time being a huge debate among parents, teachers and experts, research has now shown how damaging too much screen time can have. 

Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman states that, by the time they are seven years old, most children born today will have spent the equivalent of a full year glued to screens.

The internet provokes what we call a ‘Butterfly mentality’; where the brain flits from thing to thing without having to focus for very long

“By it’s very nature, the internet provokes what we call a ‘Butterfly mentality’; where the brain flits from thing to thing without having to focus for very long,” says Martina Barrett, Co-Founder of VAKS, the Hertfordshire-based Tuition company that prides itself on bringing educational support back to real people and real learning.

“When children are constantly on iPads and smartphones, it’s no surprise they find it increasingly difficult to sit in a classroom and concentrate for up to an hour at a time. We are finding that children become tired quicker, their engagement with printed texts is not as great and even their motor skills are suffering from the constant use of touch screens as opposed to toys and tools that require manual manipulation.”

What is FOBO?

Experts in both social psychology and technological development have spoken about the phenomenon of FOBO (Fear Of Being Offline - also known as FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out) and its direct correlation with anxiety symptoms; where sufferers are compelled to constantly check their devices in order to reassure themselves that they have not somehow missed out on something.

“The irony is that, due to online formats, children are technically reading more often these days - but it’s not Committed Reading, where they sit down and properly focus on a book. They’re skimming short blocks of text and most of their information is given in the form of videos, Vines and games.”

All down to dopamine?

According to research, our reduced attention spans could be due to the effects of dopamine released in our brains as we browse the internet.

Dopamine is the chemical responsible for transmitting signals in the brain and is activated when something good happens unexpectedly. Usually linked with rewards and addictive behaviour, browsing the internet often leads to a spike in our dopamine levels and spurs us on to seek another immediate high.

“Constant exposure to screens is not just affecting children’s ability to learn, it is affecting their ability to process information and apply it in a meaningful way,” says Martina. “Technology is definitely the forefront of the modern world but there are still many events that require young people to focus and work methodically – whether that’s in an exam, when writing a personal statement or setting up a science experiment.”

“Our recommendation would always be to limit the amount of time children spend on screens, especially before bed or after school,” says Jacqui. “In today’s world, our devices have become an immediate source of entertainment rather than tools to be used when needed. Children need to learn that their iPad is no substitute for their own brain!”



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