Screen Time

Are children addicted to technology?

We often hear that technology is taking over children’s lives but is this common perception really the case?

Killian Mullan at Oxford University doesn’t think so. His research reveals that technology isn’t consuming children’s lives 24/7. He says,

On paper, the total time children spend using digital devices sounds huge. But, when you break it down the picture that emerges shows how children have embedded tech in their daily activities – just like we have.

Killian’s research challenges our thinking about how children use technology because we assume they are permanently plugged in and exclude other activities.

His research shows that children are multi-taskers and adapt their behaviours to include their devices and do other things as they normally would.

Rather than technology swallowing children whole as some research suggests, Killian says in fact, “children are combining the use of new technology with other activities” and in some cases to support other activities such as homework.

What the study also shows is that children use technology differently according to gender with boys spending a lot more time playing videogames than girls. He found that although the use of videogames between boys and girls is significantly wider girls are far from technophobes but “use technology as much as boys, but do so in markedly different ways.”

The idea that using videogames can be linked to lots of negative effects tends to ignore that there are benefits too and being exposed to digital cultures surrounding video gaming can improve programming skills and lead them into careers in technology.

Killian’s study is the first evaluation of how the time children aged 8-18 spend daily on screen-based activities (TV, videogames and computers) has changed since 2000. Other studies have looked at how much time children have spent engaging with technology but haven’t considered the context of other daily activities.


However, although many children weave their digital pastimes with daily life, some children are extreme internet users or super-users of gaming technology and develop a pattern of persistent or recurrent behaviour so severe that it takes pole position over other aspects of their lives. This may impact on their sleep, eating, socialising and education.

When technology becomes all-consuming then there is a problem and this has been recognised recently the World Health Organisation classifying gaming addiction as a mental health condition.

A law banning access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 06:00 has been introduced by the government in South Korea and in China, the internet giant Tencent limits the time children can play its most popular games. Additional measures include a real-name authentication system and software that enables parents to place electronic locks on the game.

Too long gaming can seriously damage your health as demonstrated by a 17-year-old gamer who suffered a type of stroke after spending 40 consecutive hours playing King of Glory.

Several studies show that spending too much screen time can hurt children’s eyesight and cause headaches. One study found that school-aged children who spent seven hours or more a week using computers or mobile video games tripled their risk for myopia.

One of the interesting links to nearsightedness is the fact that lots of children just aren’t spending enough time outdoors. By 2050, it is thought that half the world’s population could be myopic. Take a look at the following interview on CBS This Morning with Dr. Christopher Starr, an ophthamologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.

Walk The Walk

Yes, some children are screen junkies hooked on their digital heroin with some attending ‘smartphone rehab‘ but children might be less guilty of excessive screen time than their parents.

Parents may believe they are good role models for how to use technology but what message are children getting when their parents sleep with their phones next to them or sit in bed on their iPads? How much time do adults spend on screen‐based activities?

The Common Sense Media report Technology Addiction: concern, controversy, and finding balance note that “A significant minority of families seems to be truly struggling to integrate mobile technology in a healthy way.”

Some children not only feel that their parents are ignoring them but end up learning to mimic their parents’ behaviour. The Children’s Commissioner report Life In Likes makes the same point that children will “take cues from their parents’ actions and learn what is ‘normal’ social media use from those around them.”

Perhaps children’s use of technology isn’t what we should be most concerned with. A study by Craig Palsson at Yale University shows that from 2005 to 2012, injuries to children under five increased by 10%, possibly because smartphones distract parents from supervising their children.

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