Growing up online: the detrimental impact on children
by: Mitch Stewart
As the pandemic continues to keep us locked down, what’s the harm in a little extra screen time?
“Just like using substances, it activates that same reward section in your brain,” said Sheri Ongena, a Registered Social Worker with Family Counselling and Support Services in Guelph, Ontario. “You literally become addicted to being on screens.” Ongena also has her own therapy practice, and her experience has taught her that many issues in younger people are often related to screen use.
The World Health Organization recommends that kids under two should not have any screen time, and kids from ages 2-5 should have less than an hour per day. Statistics Canada reported that just over half of Canadian children exceed 2 hours per day in 2017, and they report that most Canadians increased their screen time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
One of the biggest concerns that Ongena has is that screen use suppresses your body’s melatonin, which can impact the amount of sleep you get. “Kids sleep with screens beside them or they’re on them late at night,” Ongena explains. “Then that can affect the next day so they will not be able to concentrate in school.”
Ongena notes that it can be very difficult to break a routine of excessive screen time. “When kids are used to being on screens all the time and then it gets to a problem point, parents try to set limits and then there can be a real explosion of behaviours.”
While the options are limited when we’re locked down, children don’t have to be dependent on technology to get through the day. “Yes, you have to be online for most of the day whether it’s work or school, but you can break it up,” says Ongena. “Get up, take a break, do something physically active or go outside.”
Some screen time is also necessary for a healthy social life during the pandemic. “It’s fine during COVID, just use it purposefully,” said Ongena. “I’ve seen kids playing games together, my daughter was playing battleship with her friends and working on school projects together,” Ongena suggests that children should learn to use their technology with purpose instead of mindlessly scrolling online.
It can be especially difficult to stay away from screens when it is the only option everyone has right now. Yes, everyone should be able to spend time with their friends even if they can’t in person; but it is possible to moderate it and help children understand that an entirely digital lifestyle isn’t a healthy one.