Screen time dilemma

THE question of whether young children should or shouldn’t use technology has long passed, and the focus needs to be on its benefits, Notre Dame professor Dawn Darlaston-Jones says.

More technology not less is in our kids’ future and taking a “rose-tinted” view of a computer/television free past does nothing to address inherent problems:  “You can’t turn the clock back, it’s farcical,” she says.

The behavioural science academic cites her nine-year old grandson using an app to design and furnish a home, with a world-wide audience voting on the end result.

• Professor Dawn Darlaston-Jones.

“It’s a really creative app and he downloaded it because he is a creative person, who likes puzzles,” she says.

“The app is engaging and intelligent, and he is learning skills for life.”

Balance is the key to time spent on the computer, or watching television, and that applies to adults as well.

“If we calculate the number of hours in front of TV for recreation we would be very surprised.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics show adults spend on average four hours per day watching TV, compared to 30 minutes of physical activity.

“[With] time on the computer at work, and on mobile phones,  people are spending the majority of their time hooked up,” professor Darlaston-Jones says.

Society has been conditioned to see television and computers as recreational devices: “Telling people they don’t need to go outside of the home.”

“It shapes the way we engage with the outside community,” she says.

“People should be aware of screen time, it’s a problem for society as a whole.”

While some technology can be beneficial it shouldn’t be at the expense of other activities, especially drawing, reading, writing, creative play and outdoor activities for children and teenagers.

A 2015 Norwegian study found teenagers using computers and mobiles, especially in the evening, had disturbed sleep patterns. Those having more than four hours of computer or mobile phone use a day were more likely to be sleep deprived.

The artificial light of the screen alters the melatonin levels in the brain, Prof Darlaston-Jones says: “At bed time the levels increase telling the brain to switch off. Conflicting messages [from electronic devices] throw the sleep cycle…It plays havoc with the circadian rhythm.”

Like a balanced diet for good health, a balanced use of technology is vital to mental and physical health of kids and adults alike, professor Darlaston-Jones says.


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