Is screen time really damaging for young people?

28th January 2019 | News

There has been much debate on how we should manage our use of screen time following guidance published by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health earlier this month. Rather than clamping down on phones, tablets and laptops, it is recommended that parents and carers concentrate on ensuring their children get enough sleep, exercise and family interaction. But why?

Understanding the science informing the debate can give us the motivation we need to follow these recommendations. We need to lead by example and monitor our own screen time.

Thrive training teaches us how the stress and feel-good chemicals in the brain and body effect our health and wellbeing. There is a focus on developing relationships and using activities and strategies to maximise the amount of feel-good chemicals released. This encourages enhanced access to learning as well as promoting healthy social and emotional wellbeing.

With this in mind, we can see how it is not necessarily the amount of time we spend in front of our screens, but it is the content and context of what we are looking at that we need to consider. Using our smart phones, for example, to replace face-to-face relationships we are depriving our bodies of the feel-good chemicals generated by experiencing a relationship in the flesh. The feel-good chemicals that come from social interaction - which is what we crave - come from real-life communication rather than a message via a screen.

Another consequence of searching for connection through a screen is the risk of cyber bullying - sadly now so widespread. The fear generated by being just one click away from being targeted can cause worrying levels of the stress hormone cortisol to be produced 24/7. Constantly checking screens in order to feel connected to peers can lead to disrupted sleep. It is not hard to imagine the short and long-term effects of this chronic sleep deprivation on a young person's brain, body, and behaviour.

At the same time as increasing our stress hormone cortisol levels, through being hooked on our screens we are not getting the benefit of the 'cuddle' feel-good chemical oxytocin, released when we feel attachment. Oxytocin actually helps to reduce cortisol levels, so this is a double whammy!

Policing screen time can be difficult; rather, adults might consider focusing on other aspects of their children's lifestyle. From getting enough sleep to being active, parents and carers can look towards a number of other factors which will, by their very nature, help to create a healthy balance.

Over to you

Reduced anxiety and behavioural incidents. Calmer classrooms filled with engaged leaners. Improved relationships with parents and carers. These are just some of the outcomes reported by settings embedding Thrive’s whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. Are you ready to join them? Click here to get started.

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