A young boy tucked up in bed touches his lips to the screen and kisses his grandma’s face goodnight. In the living room, twin pre-teens argue over what to watch on Stan, while their 14-year-old older sister monitors her heart rate on a smartwatch after a gruelling workout, courtesy of YouTube.
It’s an ever-changing world where technology is evolving at breakneck speed. And love it or loathe it, kids just can’t seem to get enough of it.
No matter what your thoughts are about technology, you must admit, some of it is pretty cool. Google can provide answers to those tricky homework questions that leave parents scratching their heads in frustration. Plonking a feisty preschooler in front of a screen is a distraction while mum cooks dinner. Allowing your teenage son to binge Netflix at home means at least you know where he is.
Teens and screens go hand in hand
It’s probably no surprise to learn that teens are among the biggest technology users — with the most popular platforms being YouTube at 86 per cent, Facebook 75 percent and Instagram 70 percent, according to the government’s eSafety commissioner.
You’ll find many Gen Z kids scooping their phone out from under their pillow before their feet hit the floor in the morning, and checking social media is often the last thing they do at night. Young children are media savvy; as soon as their little fingers can grip a tablet, they’ll happily tune into their favourite shows. Kids as young as nine are putting a smartphone on their wish list for Santa.
For optimal health, the Australian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Young People recommend kids from birth to age two have no screen time. Then up to five years, a maximum of one hour a day, and kids five to 17 years no more than two hours of recreation screen time a day.
But crunch the numbers, and it’s significantly more. The Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll for screen time of 4000 children showed a daily average of 4.6 hours.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that is gripping the world, those who saw technology as a villain had to tell worried parents to take a chill pill.
After all, technology was the starring conduit that allowed friends, families and work colleagues to stay connected. While the world floundered in the grip of tumultuous terror and uncertainly, we held tighter to our smartphones, scanning for updates, to see how our world was changing.
Technology sanctioned speedy dissemination of information to the masses, telehealth services provided remote medical aid, those in isolation at home used apps to learn new skills and access fitness programs. Children could still go to school via Zoom apps, and universities and businesses continued to forge ahead in uncertain times in the brave new world that was unfolding.
Now that we are all adapting to the new ways of living with coronavirus, are kids choosing app-based experiences to the detriment of face-to-face interaction with their peers? Many say the scales need to be tipped back in balance. Kids need to re-engage with each other, in the real world. But some kids (and adults) will still prefer to use screens, because in some ways it’s easier.
Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other says some people prefer communication via technology because “real” face-to-face conversations aren’t scripted, so they can be awkward.
There is also concern that with more screen time kids are opting out of physical activity in favour of sedentary screen time. Lisa Vale, a paediatric occupational therapist, says there are valid reasons why parents should be worried. “It’s concerning because if play means predominantly pressing buttons, kids aren’t developing necessary gross and fine motor skills,” she says.
If young kids are using a tablet, Vale says parents need to put a stylus in their hand. “To be ready to write, kids need foundation fine motor skills, like grasp and release, then a dominant hand is developed,” she says.
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