Children’s screen time has long been a contentious issue for the modern parent. The situation has become more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic has created a perfect storm for increased screen usage with children out of school for longer periods of time, their inability to visit with friends and the need for parents to work uninterrupted from home,” says Jeff Derevensky, Chair and James McGill Professor with the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, is an expert on child and adolescent high-risk behaviours.
In this Q&A, Derevensky discusses video game addiction, its impact on developing minds and strategies parents can employ to place reasonable limits on their children’s screen time.
Derevensky’s research focuses on child and adolescent high-risk behaviours. He is well known for his research on youth gambling, the effects of social media on youth and adolescents’ gambling habits, as well as the social costs of gambling behaviours among young people. Derevensky has worked internationally and provided expert testimony before legislative bodies in several countries and his work has resulted in important social policy and governmental changes.
The pandemic has certainly exacerbated the issues surrounding screen times for parents and children. The pandemic has created a perfect storm for increased screen usage with children out of school for longer periods of time, their inability to visit with friends and the need for parents to work uninterrupted from home. Coupled with remote learning and the perceived need to stay connected to friends through digital media, more and more youth are engaging in increased amounts of time on their computers, smartphones, tablets and video game consoles. As a result, screen time, both academic and recreational has increased.
Video games are designed to be immersive. The graphics and story lines are especially appealing to people. For some youth, becoming involved in video games enables them to succeed in a “safe environment” that may not be possible in their other pursuits; failure only means restarting the game.
Additionally, these youth develop friendships or relationships with other gamers that can enhance a sense of belonging. Many of the games played are free (or at least start off free), enabling youth to relieve stress, engage in fantasy or role playing, and relieve boredom.
The research is mixed. While some studies suggest elementary school age children are more susceptible, others say adolescents or even adults are at greater risk for an addiction. Typically, boys tend to game more frequently and experience greater gaming-related problems than girls. Screen time for all children, especially young children, should be monitored. Young children need to interact with other children and adults to develop healthy social skills. Parents must recognize they are important role models for their children.
Excessive video game playing can lead to impaired social skill development, inability to make and maintain friendships, academic difficulties if gaming consumes disproportionate amounts of time, sleep problems, and financial difficulties if in-game purchases are made excessively. Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can also develop or be exacerbated, as well as physical health issues related to sleep derivation. Eating can also become problematic.
Needing to play for longer periods of time; an inability to stop when asked; lying about how much time they are playing; stopping or curtailing participating in other activities in order to spend time gaming; interpersonal and familial problems; depression; and increased anxiety. For some youth, gaming takes precedence over all other activities and negatively impacts academic/work activities, social engagement, and interferes with family social interactions. Gaming 20-30 hours per week is typically a red flag; gaming 30+ hours per week is a problem (this excludes educational online games).
Social media is the medium by which young people (as well as adults) frequently communicate. They can be easily negatively impacted by others which can result in social isolation, low self-esteem and increased anxiety and depression.
Screen time amounts should be based on a child’s age. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends:
Screen time also has an affect on physical health and children should be encouraged to exercise or participate in other activities. It is important to note that one must look at the context in which screen time occurs. For example, is it interfering with your child’s performance? Is it after schoolwork is completed? What about weekends or holidays?
Remember the importance of parents as role models.
While we are all feeling a sense of isolation this can be invaluable family time. Listen to your children and spend as much time together as possible. Children grow up quickly and we can never recapture the moments we spend with them. In an interview in 2019, President Barack Obama said “On my deathbed, I am confident I will not remember any bill I passed. I won’t be thinking about the inauguration. I will be thinking about holding hands with my daughters and taking them to a park or seeing them laugh while they are playing in the water. That is going to be the thing that lasts.”
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Article courtesy of The McGill Reporter
Article courtesy of The McGill Reporter