by Loraine Rushton

Do you battle with your child over screen time? Does screen compulsion take away from your ability to connect?

If you answered yes, then join the generation of parents, family members and school teachers who are dealing with a similar situation.

We are constantly hearing about the benefits of the high-tech world — faster communication, access to information, greater connection to the world and news, social mobility, the security of knowing where your child is at all times and the extended network of friends. However, there is another side to all these benefits. We can observe signs of addictive behaviour when according to Nielsen, the average teenager now sends 3,339 texts per month, which equates to about 1 text message every 6 minutes of their waking hours. Surely this is having a detrimental affect on our children and teens. Is the high amount of screen time playing a role on children’s mental health and emotional well-being? Does over-use of technology and social media lead to the increasing levels of depression, stress and anxiety and low self-esteem seen in every classroom today? Is the virtual method of communication leading to lower quality relationships, friendships and a lack of connection?

What we do know is that the obsession with phones, iPads, computers, and gaming is at an all time high with 99% of children playing video games. A staggering 125 million people around the world are playing the game ‘Fortnite’ and it is very likely that your child is one of them. Playing games for fun is not the issue, nor is checking in with a friend on chat or watching a clip on youtube. However, it is the symptoms of addiction that come with having a phone or tablet. Can your child put their phone down without a need to look at it? Can they be asked to turn off the computer without a tantrum? Or is the phone taking away from being able to have a normal social interaction?

Recently at a birthday party, I sat next to two teenage couples who both spent an entire meal communicating with each other by scrolling through their phones and when they found something of note, showed the other who acknowledged with a grunt. I’m not sure that one word was spoken between them the entire meal and they didn’t make eye contact once. How many times have you been in a restaurant or in the car with your child trying to have a conversation while they were glued to their phone? It’s this lack of connection that overtime will lead to disharmony in families and teens feeling isolated and alone.

The mental and emotional well-being of children and teens is of increasing concern and the lack of face to face human interaction is taking its toll. Beyond Blue reports that 1 in 7 young Australians experience a mental health condition, that suicide is now the biggest killer of young Australians and accounts for the deaths of more young people than car accidents, and when we learn that half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders start by age 14 years, it’s time to take a serious look at how they are spending their free time.

Geoff Colvin, in his book, ‘Humans Are Underrated,’ tells of a study done with a group of 6th graders, who went on a screen-free camp for 5 days. The impact on their emotional intelligence was staggering. He goes on to conclude that pre-teens and teenagers who are heavy social media users are, “Less likely to get good grades …less likely to get along with their parents or are happy at school; they are more likely to say they are often bored, get into trouble a lot and are often sad or unhappy.” The effect of being consumed by a phone, he concludes, is “unhappiness, emotional disconnectedness and weak social bonds,” all of which a vital aspects of a teen’s life.

This shows that screens not only absorb our attention, but they change us. The good news is that the human mind and brain will rewire itself and can and will, as in the case of the 6th graders, change back. So what can we do?