How often? For how long?
These are questions we pose having just read a report from Public Health England suggesting that spending too much time online can lead to certain mental health issues.
Young people – children and teenagers – are at the greatest risk.
This is a problem that not enough people – in our opinion, at least – take seriously. Yet it’s something that represents a significant cause for concern and a matter that could have severe consequences for a generation.
Government health advisors believe spending too long using a computer or console can lead to social problems such as anxiety, depression and loneliness. Self-esteem can become an issue, as can aggression. Young people can become isolated, which is something we encounter a great deal in our work. It’s not just the heaviest users who are at risk either.
The internet is great. We all use it. It has become invaluable. It ranks among the most-important technological developments of our age. Yet the positives can come at a cost.
Take social media, for instance, which has spawned cyberbullying and enabled those so inclined to extend their reach and torment their victims far beyond the traditional boundaries.
Take the proliferation of pornography, which is threatening to distort a generation’s perception of sex and which is introducing children to certain concepts at a much earlier age.
Such things focus on online content and the things that our young people are exposed to, and it is important – imperative, in fact – that we continue our vigilance in this regard.
In doing so, however, we mustn’t ignore the fact that the time that our children are spending online is almost as important as what they’re doing there.
To quote a pertinent passage from the Public Health England report: ‘Children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression’.
Such things can lead to significant mental health problems. This is something we must all take into consideration when determining how our young people spend their time.
Statistics suggest that one in ten children has a mental health problem of one kind or another and that one-third of teenagers admit to feeling ‘low, sad or down’ at least once a week. Some 750,000 teenagers are so troubled, researchers say, that they feel there’s ‘nothing to live for’. Taking such things into account, anything that might cause anxiety, depression and loneliness – or lead to self-esteem and aggression issues – must be taken seriously.
We’ll ask those questions once more:
Does YOUR child use the internet? How often? For how long?
We’re not saying that children and teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to spend time online – far from it, in fact. But it is important to set limits. To have rules. To stick to them.
Our advice is to reduce screen time and develop hobbies and interests that don’t involve computers, consoles and television . . .
Set an example: spend less time looking at YOUR phone or tablet. Set aside time for the family. Introduce proper mealtimes. Implement routines. Don’t use gadgets at the table.
Keep bedrooms screen-free. Ensure computers, consoles and other devices are switched off long before bedtime. Read together. Encourage better sleep.
These are all simple things that can help children and teenagers to avoid the issues that spending too much time at a screen can cause.
It might be difficult to implement at first and it’s quite likely that no-one will thank you . . .
But stick with it. For your children’s sake. It’ll be worth it in the long run.