With one in three children owning a tablet computer and (according to OfCom research) smartphone ownership becoming more and more prevalent in kids, it's becoming increasingly important that we as parents, gain awareness of not only the side effects that can come with technology overuse but also just how critical it is that we set clear boundaries, ensuring our children grow up aware from a young age how to use technology safely for their physical, emotional and mental health.
We absolutely, shouldn't be treating technology as the enemy as it's here to stay but we should be encouraging and adopting healthy digital habits ourselves so that we can 'show and tell' our children, leading by example to avoid the 'but you do it' witty retorts.
Despite screen safety guidelines clearly stating that children over the age of two years old should have no more than 2 hours of screen time per day, which includes computer usage at school, TV, smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles. Some children are spending up to six hours per day or more on screens, according to a report by Childwise.
What if, I was to tell you that technology overuse injuries ranging from headaches, eye-strain, back, neck & jaw pain and low mood could potentially be just around the corner or unfortunately already be experienced by your child?
No one likes to think of their child in pain or damaging their health long-term with some serious consequences. Arming yourself with awareness, education and a physical routine will go a long way in helping your child to protect themselves from digital wear and tear whilst growing up in a rapidly changing digital world. Teaching children the safe and correct way to use technology is paramount to heading off a generation of overuse injuries in our young.
So what are the most common signs of digital wear & tear to look out for and how do you combat them?
1. Back & Neck pain
This is the most obvious complaint as the pressure on your cervical spine increases from 10 or 15 pounds to 60 pounds every time you tilt your head forward and down.
Ever had a seven year old sitting on the back of your neck or hanging off your forehead? No? Well this is the equivalent and to think we are doing this daily by using small screens where you tilt you head down and forward for long periods of time. All attributing to muscle stiffness, soreness and curvature of the spine in the long-term.
How to combat:
Encourage your child to get up and move every 10 minutes to keep the spine moving. Avoid as much as possible your child sitting in a position with their head is tilted forward and down for too long. Also avoid allowing your child to sit on the floor crossed legged and looking down as it forces the spine into a c-shaped position.
2. Eye strain & headaches
Needless to say, focussing on such a short distance for long periods of time has given rise to eye strain which can manifest itself in difficulty focussing, dry and sore eyes, sensitivity to light and headaches.
How to combat:
Teach your child the 20:20:20 rule. So that's look up every 20 minutes, focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, this helps to prevent eye strain and teaches them to take a break.
3. Sleep disturbances & insomnia
You may have read somewhere by now that tablets, smartphones, computers etc produce something called 'Blue light' and it can interfere with normal sleep patterns and bodily rhythms. They have also been attributed to fatigue and eye strain.
Very long-term effects of sleeplessness are potentially linked to heart disease, diabetes and in some extreme cases - an early death! Just reading 'an early death' makes me shudder to think that if I allow my children to do what they want with their tech usage with no clear boundaries that I am facilitating their long-term health problems.
How to combat:
This one is a clear cut rule - no devices to be used 2 hours before bedtime. Make the bedrooms a no-tech zone so there's no cheating. There are some products out there that help to reduce the blue light but quite simply, it's easier and safer just not to use them within the suggested 'unplugged' time period.
4. Mood issues
I could ramble for hours on this one, studies have shown that there is an intrinsic link between social media and self-esteem, not to mention cyber bullying etc but in terms of the use of the device itself, ours and our children's moods over time can become dependent on technology.
Happy chemicals (dopamine) are released from stimulation of the pleasure centres in the brain, so when you play a game, get a text, find something you are looking for, get a What's App etc - think instant gratification and a release of dopamine.
It isn't without reason that too much of this is a quick route to tech addiction and can spiral into a loss of interest for your child in their offline life, activities and even manifest itself as excessive aggression.
How to combat:
Restrict technology usage where possible to prevent an unhealthy dependence. It's important to short circuit tech addiction before it really takes hold by setting limits, providing structure and routine for your child and establishing consequences for rule breaking.
Are you taking part in our National Unplugging Day this Sunday?
Image credit: postureawareness.co.uk & quickrecovery.co.uk