There is ongoing debate between parents, between doctors and well, pretty much everyone else about if children are spending too much time in front of screens or on smart phones, laptops, computer or games consoles.
What do you think? If you are a parent or someone who looks after children, do you let your children sit on devices for hours? Or, do you tell your children when enough is enough and they should go outside to play or read instead?
If you are, do you find it hard to get your child to concentrate? Or, when you are reading to them, do you struggle to get them to engage?
Let’s take a look at screen time and children, and how to make reading more enjoyable for children and how to get them to engage with reading and stories.
How much time is too much time on a device?
According to internetmatters.org, it has been found by Ofcom that 41% of parents of 12–15-year-olds find it hard to control their child’s screen time. In comparison though, Oxford University research of 20,000 parents aged between 2 and 5 found that limiting screen time had nothing to do with a young child’s ability to thrive.
It is a hotly debated topic that experts can’t seem to agree on.
Even bosses of some of the biggest tech companies on earth have said that they wouldn’t let their child have a smart phone under a certain age. UK boss of Samsung Mobile, James Kitto, says “I personally wouldn’t have given her one [smart phone] early, but it is a parental decision as to when you should get your child a phone.”
The issue of too much screen time is a very modern issue that a generation or two ago would not have really come to mind for parents or child-care professionals, but today it is so prevalent that even the World Health Organisation has published recommended guidelines on how long a child should spend in front of a screen.
The WHO say that:
Infants less than a year old should ideally have no sedentary screen time per day.
Children aged 1-2 should have no more than 60 minutes sedentary screen time per day.
Children aged 3-4 should have no more than 60 minutes of sedentary screen time per day.
Doctors in the UK called the WHO’s recommended times ‘sweeping’ and suggested that not all screen time is bad screen time. A lot of children’s homework and lessons are now based online or electronically so a lot of children need to use technology for education.
What are the effects of too much screen time?
Now here is the bit that may or may not sway your decision about how much time is too much time in front of a screen.
It has been found that too much screen time can cause:
Behavioural problems. Young children who use computers or watch TV for more than two hours a day are more likely to have social, attention and emotional problems. This could be due to the lack of real-life interactions when staring at a screen.
Sleep problems. Screentime before going to bed can cause you or your child sleep deprivation. This is because the blue light that is omitted from screens can disrupt the secretion of melatonin in your body, the chemical that helps to regulate our sleep. If this is disrupted, your sleep is disrupted. This means that when you wake up groggy from watching TV late at night or falling asleep with the TV on, you have disrupted your sleep. Never a good start to the day! Sleep deprivation can cause heart disease, fatigue and general annoyance.
Concentration problems. It has been found that children who spend hours in front of a screen then find it difficult to concentrate in lessons, in social situations and maintain focus on tasks that require cognitive action. This may also include the ability to concentrate on reading books.
Obesity. Sitting around for too long and being sedentary can cause obesity. Taking part in too much sedentary activity can be a risk factor of becoming overweight, getting hard disease and becoming mentally and physically unhealthy.
Not only could the overuse of technology contribute to the above issues, but it can also make people reliant on using technology for simple tasks where it is not needed.
It can also act as a pseudo memory where people rely on just looking up answers online instead of learning and retaining knowledge. If children learn to just Google an answer instead of leaning it, a whole wealth of knowledge could be lost.
So, what are the alternatives for your children if they are looking for something to do and the weather is not great? Our favourite idea is reading.
How is reading good for children?
Some of the benefits of reading to your children are:
Improved language skills. Reading can help to improve your child’s language skills. This is especially the case when reading to children from a young age. This is because reading to your child stimulates the part of the brain that allows them understand language. By reading to them, you can help to practise these skills and give them a head start when it comes to literature.
Increased concentration. Obviously, it difficult to ask a toddler to sit still for any amount of time and you are likely to spend most of the time trying to catch them, but it has been found that with regular reading, children will begin to improve their concentration and form a stronger self-discipline.
Improved imagination. Children have a fantastic imagination and dream big anyway. Reading can help to widen their imagination and open their minds to new and interesting ideas that will help them to dream even bigger!
A better bond between you and your child. Spending time with your child maybe something that because of work, you don’t get to do enough. By spending even 15 minutes a day reading to your child, you can help to build a better bond. By spending time with them, you can help to positively influence their development.
Improved cognitive development. Reading can help to improve problem solving, the construction of thought processes and memory.
Yes, these are all amazing things that reading can do for your children but now is the tricky part… Getting your child to sit still even for 15 minutes a day to read or be read to so they can the benefit from books.
How to make reading more enjoyable for children
There are so many ideas to get reluctant readers interested in the amazing world of literature and boost their imagination, have fun with something that some people don’t find enjoyable and improve their language skills.
Let your child choose the book. First things first, start with something that you child is going to want to read about in the first place.
Start a family book club. Get the whole family together, if your child is spending time with the whole family then they can get enjoyment just from the link with reading and family time.
Think about the reading level. For the most part there is no point in trying to read War and Peace by Tolstoy to young children. Try something that is in line with what they are interested in and is manageable to read.
Make a puppet show. This could be a lot of parents’ worst nightmare but if you make your reading more interactive, you may capture your child’s attention for longer.
Watch the clock. Don’t make the stories too long. You will find yourself becoming unstuck if the stories you are reading are long and slow-paced. If you don’t have room for a hundred children’s books, then the best way to ensure that you find an appropriate length story is to find short children’s stories online.
Find a picture book. Graphic novels, picture books and any books that grab your child’s attention also count! This could be a great way to keep your child interested.
Whatever stage of reading your child is at and whatever they are interested in, there are plenty of ways to ensure that reading stays, or at least becomes, a firm favourite of theirs. Reading with your child doesn’t have to be a chore and can become the daily activity in your house that creates new bonds and helps your child in more ways than one.