Technology: A Mixed Bag for Children’s Health
Summertime for kids used to be defined by riding bikes and swimming at the pool. These days, it’s more likely to mean watching TV and playing video games.
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of students play video or computer games (or use a computer for something that is not school work) for three or more hours per average school day.
Meanwhile, a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8-18 year-olds devote an average of almost eight hours a day to using entertainment media—sometimes more than one device at a time.
Among low-income kids, the picture looks even worse: While kids of college-educated parents are exposed to the equivalent of 10 hours of entertainment media each day, kids of parents with no college degree spend a cumulative 11.5 hours a day exposed to media, according to the same Kaiser study.
Technology Takes Time Away From Health
That doesn’t leave much time for healthy habits like exercising and spending time with family members.
“The more time kids spend in front of a screen, the less physically active they are, and the less engaged they are with family members, both of which have negative effects on physical and emotional growth,” says Emily Coe, PhD, HealthTeacher’s director of behavioral science.
Too much screen time of any kind also can disrupt sleep patterns, which can affect students’ ability to function well during the day. Additionally, technology can pose real danger to kids, whether it’s texting while driving, being the victim of relentless cyber bullying on Facebook, or acting out aggressive behaviors learned in violent video games.
Promoting a Healthy Approach to Technology
But banning technology is hardly the solution. After all, technology is useful. Mobile phones help parents easily check in with their kids when they’re not together. Surfing the Internet offers countless learning opportunities. Even playing video games and using social media can be beneficial to the physical and mental development of young people.
Plus, technology is virtually unavoidable. “iPads and computers are used in schools as learning tools,” Coe explains. “A leading sector in the workforce is information technology. And most jobs require basic technology skills. So it’s good for our kids to embrace technology.”
The key, then, is making sure students have a healthy relationship with their computing devices. That means setting -- and enforcing -- time limits.
Remind your students’ parents that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 years of age. For children over the age of 2, the AAP recommends less than two hours of screen time per day. That includes watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing video games or using an iPad, smartphone or other computing device.
Another step teachers can take is to encourage students to use technology to promote healthy behaviors and develop their health.
“Teaching kids how to access reliable health information is an important part of health education, and technology can bring fantastic resources to their fingertips,” Coe says. “In addition, there are some great apps that can promote healthy behaviors.”
GPS-based apps can assist students with physical activities like family walks or scavenger hunts. Nutrition apps can help provide information on food choices or help students track their food intake. And relaxation apps, such as HealthTeacher’s Deep Breathing App, can help students learn stress and anger management with relaxation techniques such as deep abdominal breathing.