The time for idyllic perceptions about cheerful children jumping over vast green spaces in the sunlight is over. Children today seem to have replaced phone screens with green grass, left running and jumping and set out to sit lazily on couches, their fingers jumping on video game buttons, controlling imaginary heroes moving behind Screens.
The Coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in the time children spend in front of electronic screens, especially with the closure of schools and the conversion of a large proportion of parents to work from home, to become common spaces for work, living and education. According to UNICEF, about 1.5 billion children around the world have been affected by school closures, prompting an increasing number of families to rely on technologies and digital solutions to continue to educate and entertain children and connect them to the outside world.
With this increase in children’s use of screens, families’ fears have risen, especially with most of the studies presented focusing on the harms of screens on children. But the good news is that there are many positive aspects in children’s use of screens, specifically video games if they are used in a specific setting.
In a study conducted at the University of Oxford, UK, and its results were published in the Journal of Pediatrics, and included nearly 5,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 10-15 years, the study authors found that 75% of children and adolescents in the United Kingdom use video games. Daily.
The study revealed that children and adolescents who played video games for less than an hour per day had a higher ability to adapt and face less difficulties in their social relationships than those who did not use the games at all or those who played for more than 3 hours per day.
On the other hand, the study drew attention to the fact that children who spend more than half of their free time playing video games face difficulties in adjustment and relationships, possibly because of the impact of the time they spend playing video games on other aspects of life such as social and academic activities. (1)
In the same context, research published in the American Journal of Play indicated the positive effects of video games on basic mental processes, such as perception and memory, the ability to make decisions, solve problems, and the ability to engage in several tasks simultaneously.
According to statistics, standardized use of video games helped improve visual contrast sensitivity and increase the ability to distinguish between subtle differences in color tones.
The results of another study conducted by researchers at the Open University of Catalonia in Spain and Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States revealed that the brain regions involved in the attention and reward processes are more efficient in those who play video games, and indicated that video games can increase the size and efficiency of brain regions related to spatial memory. It also increases the efficiency of areas of the brain responsible for attention and visual skills.
On the other hand, the study also indicated that excessive playing video games leads to functional and structural changes in the neurological reward system in addicts, similar to those that appear in other addictive disorders such as alcoholism and smoking.
Other studies have also linked some video games to improving cognitive skills and concentration skills in children with ADHD, as they provide an outlet for stress relief. Some games also provide a distraction for sick children, especially cancer patients, and help distract them from the pain associated with receiving some types of treatment. (2) (3)
Despite the existence of these positive effects, they certainly do not support the idea that video games alone can help a child to develop, especially in light of the many proven risks associated with excessive use of screens, and perhaps the most prominent of them are:
- Speech delay
In a study of more than 2,000 Canadian preschoolers, researchers found an association between speech delay and excessive screen use. Children at this age have difficulty applying what they have learned in different contexts. Screen overuse also affects the time children communicate with parents and other children. (4)
- Sleep disorders
Several studies have linked excessive screen use with sleep disturbances, which is mainly due to delayed sleep times, psychological stimulation from consumed content and the effects of screen light on sleep patterns, as the blue light from the screen causes the suppression of the hormone melatonin responsible for sleep. (5)
- Weight gain, diabetes and changes in eating habits
A study conducted at the University of London’s Population Health Research Institute indicated that children who spent more than 3 hours per day in front of a screen were more likely to gain weight and show signs of insulin resistance than their peers who spent an hour or less in front of screens every day, as their food intake increased during the day. Viewing, they are also exposed to marketing ads related to high-calorie foods and drinks that influence children’s preferences, purchase orders and consumption habits.
- Impact on social skills
It has become common to see a group of children sitting together while they are not together, each of them immersed in their phone or tablet rather than interacting with each other.
Excessive screen use affects children’s interactions with their peers, which seriously affects their social skills. And not only children use phones, but adults use them, as many children complain that they feel that they are second only to their parents after phones!
- Aggression and indirect exposure to violent content
A child may be exposed to violent content, which many studies have linked to increased stimulation of aggressive behavior. If you think you monitor the content your child is exposed to well, you may want to review this belief.
For example, when you watch a program with inappropriate content, thinking that your child is busy playing, the child may be affected by this content, which may leak to him through news bulletins or even advertisements. (6)
That is, diligence in anything, and if it is diligence in playing, it must bear fruit.
Work hard at anything, and if you play then play hard, and start right from now. “
(Mustafa Mahmoud, Satan rules)
While you cannot completely avoid your children’s use of screens, there are a number of tips that will help you achieve the desired balance, allowing the child to engage in a positive and effective experience in front of the screen while limiting exposure to harm:
- The screen does not allow turning into a babysitter
Many parents fall into the trap of using the phone to distract the child. You can use screen time to interact with your child and spend time with him, listen to him explaining the game he is playing, join him in playing with it, help him search for an answer to one of his questions, or watch a suitable movie and discuss it.
- Focus on the type of content the child is exposed to
There is rich educational content on the Internet that allows the child to interact and participate instead of being just a passive viewer, and statistics indicate that the percentage of students who studied at least one course online during the past year exceeded 30%.
There are also many applications that encourage thinking and questioning, perhaps the most famous of which is the educational version of the Kraft game. In addition to many applications designed to teach specific skills such as multiplication table or spelling, and programming applications such as “Scratch” that allow the child to actively participate instead of being just a user of the programs.
Instead of using YouTube to watch dozens of hours of non-purposeful “flocks,” encourage it to focus on learning a skill or language via YouTube.
- Reading and research skills
There are tons of kid-friendly e-books on the Internet, both available for free or that you can buy. You can also exploit your child’s questions about any topic and encourage him to use search engines, and teach him skills to ensure the reliability of the information he accesses in effective ways.
- Communication with the outside world
The available video calling apps have helped them communicate with distant friends and family, which has been evident over the past year. Social media also provides children and adolescents with an opportunity to explore interests and hobbies and communicate with others who share the same tendencies that may not be available to them in reality.
- Protection from inappropriate content
Make sure to check programs and games and make sure the content you present is appropriate before letting your child watch or play with them. Remember that your child may be exposed to content that you disagree with at some point. Be prepared to do so by talking to him about the kinds of situations he might encounter, the appropriate behavior, and encourage him to think critically about what he is watching.
- Time Management
It is important to organize screen time so that the child’s free time is not completely swallowed up, nor does it prevent it from engaging in other activities. Keep some areas and times clear of any screens, for example family mealtimes, or prohibit their use at least an hour before bed, or use them in bedrooms. You can also use some apps that allow control over how long a child can use the device. (7) (8)
Remember, you may not be able to strike a balance all the time – parents around the world are currently under unprecedented pressure without help. During times of stress, exhaustion, and illness, it’s okay to give your child more screen time to allow yourself some well-deserved rest so that you can carry on again without falling into the trap of guilt.