How Does Technology Impact Children’s Social & Fitness Skills?
Technology is evolving faster than ever, and children of all ages seem to be getting involved with everything from tablets and phones, to social media and smart TVs and often know more than us adults. But what effect is this having on their social skills and their physical well-being?
This is a topic that’s been discussed for many years and some experts state that the wide use of technology causes poor communication skills and reduced physical activity. On the other hand, some claim that using these gadgets can actually help kids keep in touch with their friends and boost their physical fitness. In this article, we explore the effects of technology on children’s health and their social lives.
- How do kids in the UK use technology?
According to BARB — 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. A study by Samsung found that UK households also have on average 18 smart devices — including mobiles, tablets and TVs — while other research has forecasted that iPad use will increase to 18.1 million users by 2019.
These numbers don’t show how much time parents allow their children to use technology at all, but it shows that most kids at least have access to several devices regularly in their homes. For some families, this means that it’s easier for children to choose sedentary activities over playing sports and other more physical games, which could have a negative impact on their physical fitness.
But what about the new, emerging technologies? Smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, are becoming very popular in the UK. It’s clear that UK families enjoy their gadgets, and smart speakers offer a quick and easy way to access information in the home. They are convenient and can help children learn facts quickly, but they also remove the need for kids to explore ideas and look for the answers themselves when they have a question or a problem to solve. When they have an answer only a spoken question away, this could impact on their ability to debate and discuss ideas with peers.
- How does technology impact social skills?
When it comes to socialising, many people embrace the use of technology as platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow kids to maintain relationships with friends even if they live many miles away and programs like Skype help teachers conduct one-to-one tuition sessions in a virtual classroom.
From a safety perspective, smartphones also allow kids to easily keep in touch with their parents when they are out with friends or on their way to and from school, which is certainly a bonus. A report by Unicef discovered that technology helped kids boost their existing relationships with friends too, while also assisting those who were shy and struggled to socialise in person.
There are clear advantages of allowing a close relationship between kids and technology, but many still claim that overuse can be detrimental. Research carried out at Newcastle University found that primary school kids who consumed up to three hours of television a day grew up to be better communicators at secondary school but, as a contrast, watching any more than three hours was believed to lead to poorer linguistic skills.
Naturally, bad communication skills could significantly impact our children’s ability to make connections, participate in the classroom and promote themselves during university and first-job interviews so this is important to consider.
- How much TV are our kids actually watching?
According to an Ofcom 2017 media use report:
- 96% of 3-4-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 15 hours a week.
- 95% of 5-7-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 13.5 hours a week.
- 95% of 8-11-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14 hours a week.
- 91% of 12-15-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14.5 hours a week.
These statistics might indicate that children aren’t consuming more than the three-hour-a-day limit per week, but this report also showed that more than 48% of each age group — 90% in the 12-15-year-old category — also watched YouTube videos on top of TV.
Today’s technology now mean that kids can consume visual content on multiple platforms, not just the TV set, which makes ensuring that children are receiving the right amount of real-life conversation more difficult for parents.
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” that appear throughout the day. Similarly, Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston Medical Center, states that kids “learn by watching,” and suggests that if they aren’t engaging in physical socialisation, keeping their eyes instead on their smartphones and tablets, then they are missing out on important communication development stages.
- How does technology impact children’s physical health?
The impact of technology on kids’ social skills has arguments for and against, but what is the consensus when it comes to its effect on children’s physical health? As we’ve seen, most children are engaging with technology for several hours a week — time which could be time spent enjoying physical activities instead. According to the Ofcom report:
- 53% of 3-4-year-olds go online for 8 hours a week.
- 79% of 5-7-year-olds go online for 9 hours a week.
- 94% of 8-11-year-olds go online for 13.5 hours a week.
- 99% of 12-15-year-olds go online for 21 hours a week.
That’s a lot of time spent engaging in a sedentary activity instead of playing more actively. Shockingly, 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 but it appears that the trend for social media, video games, YouTube, Netflix and other technology may be causing a reduction in physical activities for both adults and children.
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 to confirm this theory. 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 obesity problem.
On the other hand, many say that tablets and online platforms in fact encourage physical activity in kids. For example, 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. Then, there are the many engaging and child-friendly apps for everything from yoga to running that are designed to get kids off the sofa and up and moving, plus plenty of after-school sports clubs that have Facebook and Twitter accounts to persuade kids surfing online to join in.
It’s clear that there are many online opportunities to get kids more active, so could it be that we’re simply missing them?
- How can we encourage physical activity and social interaction?
There are pros and cons on both sides when it comes to technology’s effect on our children’s social and physical wellbeing. Fighting a battle against technology is probably impossible, so here are some tips on how to get children engaging in physical activities to boost their physical health and their social skills:
- Make a list of fun group activities that your kids can work at and improve in — such as skiing lessons.
- Don’t allow the use of phones and tablets at the table during mealtimes, so that you can make time for conversation.
- Look through the App Store on your child’s phone together to find apps that help encourage physical activity — that way, they get to keep their phone while moving more.
- Be more active together by walking or cycling to school together.
- Take your child and their friends bowling, swimming or to a soft-play venue once every few weeks for some active fun.
- Organise a family hike somewhere different one weekend every month and explore nature together.
- Do some research and find 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.
- Don’t allow phones and tablets at bedtime. This will limit the time they spend online before going to sleep which is important as the blue light emitted from devices harms sleep quality.
These findings show that even though technology has appeared to negatively impact on children’s social and physical health, it can also clearly be a support if used correctly. Devices are fine if not overused, so limit your child’s time and incorporate some of the above tips into your family life to ensure that the rising trend for technology doesn’t mean your child misses developing socially and physically. A balance that both you and your child will be happy with can be achieved.
This article was researched and created by Chill Factore, which offers lift passes to the UK’s longest indoor real snow slope. The article has been edited by A Mum Reviews. This is a collaborative post.