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Is technology causing issues to our children’s social skills and physical activity levels?

Author: Jonny Mackley
by Jonny Mackley
Posted: Sep 26, 2018
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Our children are digitally native and although this is beneficial for their future prospects such as tech-driven careers, it could often be problematic. We take a look at what effect is this having on their social and physical wellbeing.

Among parents, technology in the home has sparked up a lot of conversations with some saying that technology can help our children become more knowledgeable and communicate with friends around the world and others stating that it actually causes more problems.

Devices in Britain

At the end of 2017, BARB reported that 11.54 million homes in the UK had at least one television set, 8.66 million had two, 4.11 million had three and 1.75 million had four — showing that we watch an awful lot of television! Another recent survey by Samsung found that UK households also have on average 18 smart devices — including mobiles, tablets and TVs — while other research has forecasted that iPad use will increase to 18.1 million users by 2019. Although this data doesn’t indicate how much time parents and guardians allow their kids to consume technology, it at least suggests that most kids at least have access to several devices regularly in their homes. For some people, this opportunity can make it easier for youngsters to opt for sedentary activities, rather than playing sports or physical games, which could impact negatively on their physical fitness.

What recent technologies have changed the landscape of our homes? Smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, are growing in popularity in the UK. Futuresource found that there was a global year-on-year increase of 212% in smart speakers in 2017, with the UK and US estimated to be the key markets — accounting for an approximate 89%. Clearly, UK families enjoy their gadgets, and smart speakers offer a quick and easy way to access information. Although smart speakers are convenient and can help children learn facts quickly, do they also remove the need for kids to explore ideas when they have an answer only a spoken question away — and could this impact on their ability to debate and discuss ideas with peers?

Social skills

A lot of people believe that technology can enhance of little ones social skills. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow kids to maintain relationships with friends who perhaps live many miles away, while programs like Skype help teachers conduct one-to-one tuition sessions in a virtual classroom. From a safety perspective, smartphones also allow kids to easily keep in touch with their parents when they aren’t in their care, which is certainly a bonus. What’s more, a report by Unicef discovered that technology helped kids boost their existing relationships with friends, while also assisting those who struggled to socialise easily in person.

There are benefits that come from a kids relationship with different gadgets, overuse could be problematic. Research carried out at Newcastle University found that primary school kids who consumed up to three hours of television a day grew up to be better communicators at secondary school. However, watching any more than three hours was believed to lead to poorer linguistic skills. Bad communication could significantly impact our kids’ ability to make connections, participate in the classroom and promote themselves during university and first-job interviews — so how much TV are our kids watching? According to an Ofcom 2017 media use report:

  • 96% of 3-4-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 15 hours a week.
  • 95% of 5-7-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 13.5 hours a week.
  • 95% of 8-11-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14 hours a week.
  • 91% of 12-15-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14.5 hours a week.

The statistics above show that children do not consume more than three hours of TV each day, it’s important to understand that 90% of those aged between 12 and 15 watch YouTube videos on top. The advances in technology now mean that kids can consume visual content on multiple platforms, not just the TV set, which makes ensuring that children are receiving the right amount of real-life conversation more difficult.

You can’t ignore the theories that say technology is having a negative impact on the communicating skills of our little ones. Melissa Ortega, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York, claims that children use their phones as an "avoidance strategy" and can have trouble initiating "those small talk situations". Similarly, Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston Medical Center, states that kids "learn by watching," and suggests that if they aren’t engaging in physical socialisation, keeping their eyes instead on their smartphones and tablets, then they are missing out on important communication development stages.

Physical health

From the above, you can see that there are many passionate points around the impact technology can have on social skills, but what does this mean for physical activity? As we’ve seen from the above figures, most children are engaging with technology for several hours a week — which could be time spent enjoying physical activities. According to the Ofcom report:

  • 53% of 3-4-year-olds go online for 8 hours a week.
  • 79% of 5-7-year-olds go online for 9 hours a week.
  • 94% of 8-11-year-olds go online for 13.5 hours a week.
  • 99% of 12-15-year-olds go online for 21 hours a week.

Worryingly, only 9% of parents claim that their children (aged 5-16 years) achieve the government’s recommendation of one hour a day of physical activity. 60 minutes is reportedly the least amount of time needed to maintain good health, however, it appears that the trend for social media, video games, YouTube, Netflix and other technology may be causing a reduction in physical activities.

Is there any evidence that technology is having a bad impact on physical health? Since the major advances in technology have been recent, we could look at childhood fitness in previous generations. The World Health Organization has reported that the number of obese young adults aged 5-19 years has risen tenfold in the past 40 years. Although diet and education may also be to blame, technology should arguably also be held partially accountable for this global problem.

One argument is that online gadgets can encourage young people to carry out more exercises. YouTube is packed with tutorial videos that can help kids get into and practice a particular sport, while games like Nintendo Wii combine the virtual world with physical movement. Then, you have a host of engaging, child-friendly apps for everything from yoga to running that are designed to get kids off the sofa, plus plenty of after-school sports clubs that have Facebook and Twitter accounts to persuade kids surfing online to join.

Taking a day trip could be great for your little one, for example, there are plenty of fun things to do in Manchester, so why not plan a trip to the city and make some great memories? Visit a place that requires physical energy and take some pictures with your tablet!

Encouraging both

Evidently, there are both benefits and disadvantages for technology’s use in our children’s lives. Fighting a battle against technology might be impossible, so here are some tips on getting children engaging in physical activities to boost their fitness and social skills:

  • Think of fun group activities that your kids can work at and improve in — such as skiing lessons.
  • Ask your kids not to use phones at the table during mealtimes, so that you can make time for conversation.
  • Look through the App Store on your child’s phone together to find apps that encourage physical activity — that way, they get to keep their phone while moving more.
  • Walk or cycle to school together.
  • Take your child and their friends bowling, swimming or to a soft-play venue once every few weeks.
  • Organise a family hike somewhere different one weekend every month.
  • Check out what clubs your child’s school offers and ask if they want to get involved — this could be sport-based or not, as long as it gets them off their tablets and socialising.
  • Ban your child from taking their smartphones and tablets to bed with them to limit the time they spend online before going to sleep — the blue light emitted from devices harms sleep quality which is vital to well-being.

Devices are fine if not overused, so limit your child’s time and incorporate some of the above tips into your family life to ensure that the rising trend for technology doesn’t mean your child misses developing socially and physically.

About the Author

This piece was written by the copywriting team at Mediaworks Online Marketing.

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Author: Jonny Mackley

Jonny Mackley

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United Kingdom

Member since: Sep 21, 2018
Total live articles: 13

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