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Technology, Social Skills and Fitness Levels in Kids – When I was a child, I was lucky to have a sony walkman. Nowadays with advances in technology kids know how to use and have tablets, smartphones and are on social media all the time. What I’m intrigued to know as a parent is what effect is this having on our children’s physical and social wellbeing?
Being online too much and the impact of these devices has caused many debates in recent times. Expects in these fields state that technology causes poor communication skills and reduced physical activity. Then you have others that claim the latest gadgets help kids keep in touch with their friends.
Chill Factore, which offers lift passes to the UK’s longest indoor real snow slope has compiled some research on this topic and has come up with the following points.
The effects of technology on children’s health and ability to socialise
Technology in the home
According to BARB the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, as of the end of 2017, 11.54 million households owned one television set, while 8.66 million had two, 4.11 million owned three, and 1.75 million had four. Having four TV’s in the house seems a little extreme to me.
In another recent survey by Samsung found that UK households also have on average 18 smart devices, including mobiles, tablets and TV’s. More research has been conducted on the use of iPad’s and they reckon by 2019 it will increase to 18.1 million users. Then you have the latest devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, which are growing in popularity in the UK. These are giving kids answers just by asking, insteading of maybe discussing the questions with friends.
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. When they could be out playing sports or games with others.
The impact of technology on social skills
Are today’s kids losing the ability to “small talk”?
When it comes to socialising, many people advocate the use of technology. I’m guilty of this. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow kids to chat with friends who live miles away, while programs like Skype and Facetime help business and teachers chat to colleagues and students at opposite sides of the world. I keep in contact with my older sister in Canada through Facetime. This way she can see my children growing up.
From a safety perspective, smartphones allow kids to easily keep in touch with their parents. 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.
Research carried out at Newcastle University found that primary school kids who watched 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
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”.
How technology may affect children’s physical health
Did you know that 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.
How do we know that it is technology that is causing a decrease in 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.
Others say that tablets and online platforms in fact encourage physical activity in kids. 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.
Tips to encourage physical activity and social interaction
There are pros and cons on both sides when it comes to technology’s effect on social and physical wellbeing. Fighting a battle against technology might be impossible, so here are some tips on getting children engaging in physical activities:
- Fun group activities that your kids can work at and improve in, such as skiing lessons.
- Ask the kids not to use phones at the table during mealtimes and encourage small talk.
- Find apps that encourage physical activity with your children, 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.
Although technology has appeared to negatively impact on children’s social and physical health at times, it can also clearly be a support. Using the devices in moderation is the key.
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*This is a collaborative post.