Children & Young People’s Mental Health- How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

Children & Young People’s Mental Health- How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

What is making a difference to children’s mental health?

Mental health problems among children and young people have increased six-fold over the past two decades, and one in ten children now have a diagnosable condition.

Theresa May announced earlier this year ‘new mental health checks to be made available to all schools as part of new classes on ‘mental resilience’ to be part of the curriculum from 2020’

Girls being at the most risk, with self-harming reported among a fifth of those aged 14.

Boys are also effected, but usually display distress in a different way, and maybe detected more from behavioural issues.

Increasing our awareness of mental health issues, and having more open conversations at home or school is becoming more important for parents and teachers to spot early warning signs.

But, how competent would you feel to scratch below the surface, would you know how to access support if you needed to and where you could signpost your child?

These are often questions I am asked by concerned parents or teachers with growing waiting lists, some children can wait up to six months to access support or start treatment.

Children’s Mental Health services have been deemed no longer fit for purpose, as more children are showing up in emergency departments in crisis.

Smart Phones & Tablets 

Parents trying to balance online and offline worlds this summer and teachers advised to increase teaching mindfulness or outside play to avoid mental health crisis situations.

Previous research on associations between screen time and psychological wellbeing among children and adolescents has been conflicting, leading some researchers to question cutting the amount of time children spend online.

It is estimated children and adolescents commonly spend an average of five to seven hours on screens during leisure time which can have adverse effects on mental health.

For children growing up as digital natives,  screen time is certainly part of every modern household conversation.

This year the World Health Organisation decided to include gaming disorder in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases.

Experts warn ‘addicted’ children risk sleeplessness, obesity and falling victim to cyber-bullying, while losing valuable social skills through a lack of face-to-face contact.

However, in modern society, particularly inner city life, parents are limiting or restricting outdoor play without adult supervision.

Due to fear of the risk of traffic, children being hit by a car, bad weather or worse someone harming your child.

And perhaps, it is a safer, easier option for parents, then negotiating the difficulties or inconveniences of outdoor play.

Increasing Playtime 

Play is often dismissed as trivial. However, a review of the data in the role of play in mental health suggests that children’s natural playfulness might have some crucially important functions for health physical and mental development.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeremy Hunter conducted a study of happiness in children. The lowest levels of happiness by far occurred when children were at school, and the highest levels occurred when they were out of school and conversing or playing with friends. Time spent with parents fell in the middle of the range

Free play, autonomous play can teach children how to negotiate with each other, assess risk and increase their tolerance to diversity, as they learn about difference in the outside world without an adult gaze.

Given freedom and opportunity, without coercion, young people educate themselves. They do so joyfully, and in the process develop intrinsic values, personal self-control, and emotional wellbeing.

Perhaps, the real issue is not screen time, but play time and how much time we dedicate to play.

Incorporating screen time into play development, both at home and in school to influence a healthy balance of online and offline play is creative, fun and educational.

Perhaps, we can utilise the convenience of digital to support parents, teachers and young people to address mental health issues and signpost to support earlier.

I have certainly worked with some digital tools to increase support to young people, including MYMUP and Kooth to encourage open mental health conversations and utilise tech for good.

Tune in to the Better Mental Health Podcast to hear from a Primary School Governor on Children, Young People and Mental Health