Technology - What are the Impacts on Our Children?
In today’s world, there is no escaping technology. It’s everywhere…in our home, in our workplace and in our schools. We use it in almost everything that we do. Love it or loathe it, people need to manage themselves and their children to be able to live safely within the digital world.
What do you remember of your school years? Did you have time to socialise with your friends? Were your friends the ones who actually spent time with you? Did you talk to each other? Did you keep in contact with each other by personally finding things you enjoyed doing together? Were you able to hold meaningful conversations? Did you spend part of your evening completing your homework by handwriting with a pen or pencil in a paper notebook? Were you able to focus on what others were saying? Could you concentrate in class? Were you mostly happy with life?
Fast forward to the experience of your child in school today. How do they function and learn in the school setting? Is your child able to sustain focus on a homework task? Are they an independent learner with initiative and thoughts of their own? Do they have time to balance up the day at school with outdoor recreation? Do they sleep well and have enthusiasm when they wake up for a new day of school? How well do they process verbal information? How quickly do they learn and retain important concepts? How is their mood and outlook about their future?
Pasi Sahlberg, ex minister of Education in Finland, who now works in Australia at the Gonski Institute within the University of NSW in Sydney, has international experience in looking at trends in student achievement. He has a theory about why the level of achievement of teenagers in Year 9 (approximately 15 years old), are declining worldwide, even in education systems that have a history of international excellence. What could possibly be affecting students across all of these countries to cause a worldwide decline in key learning skills?
Pasi believes that this is simply because of two significant phenomena affecting today’s students, decreased sleep and increased screen time. 20 years ago, the typical teenager averaged 9 hours of sleep per night. Today that average has decreased to just 6-7 hours per night.
20 years ago, whist technology and home computers existed, the ease of access and proliferation of use was nowhere near what it is today, as shown in the graph below. Note the outcome of less sleep and more screen time.
These combined aspects are causing an epidemic of mood disturbance and students are experiencing unprecedented issues of reduced wellbeing. Additionally, anxiety, depression and self-harm are increasing in students who have too much screen time and are being exposed to ‘anti-social media’ content. This can occur where unfiltered and inappropriate communications are uncensored. In addition, the rise of cyberbullying is contributing to threaten the safety and protection of healthy relationships for children and teenagers. It is for this reason that parents and guardians need to take an active interest in what their children are doing online. Some simple techniques may include:
Ensure children use devices in common areas where you can monitor screen time activities.
Limit screen time to no more than 30 minutes at a time and maxium of 2 hours across the day for school-aged children.
Provide alternatives to very young children. In children from 0-5 years old, do not allow them any more than 10 minutes exposure at a time to a screen and no more than 30 minutes in any one day. The impact on a developing brain is yet unknown.
Consider the strain on eyesight. Vision impairments are becoming more and more linked to overexposure to screens at close range. Never allow them to hold devices close to their face (especially iPads and smartphones).
Ensure that there is no screen time in the 2 hours before bed time as the chemicals that induce sleep are reversed by screen time.
Take an interest in the games that children are playing and ensure that they are age-appropriate and non-violent.
Make as a condition of your child having a social media presence, that their parents are “friends” with them, so that their online activity is transparent. Cyberbullying relies on others not seeing what is being published online.
Take time to have real conversations with your children. Engage with them and involve yourself in activities with them that you both enjoy.
Have the children go outside and experience some “green time”. Whether it is playing outside or participating in organised sport, movement and exercise are an important counterbalance to sitting for prolonged periods of time in front of a screen.
Lead by example and monitor your time on your devices. Don’t become distracted by your device when you are spending time with them or the family.
You can follow @pasi_sahlberg on Twitter where many educational forums publish their views.
Pasi has recently made comment in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. Click on the link to see what he had to say.
Written by Joanna Westerink
Learning Support Coordinator