27 Nov 2018
The statistics regarding non-tech engagement with children are startling. One study revealed that children in the UK spend less time outside than prison inmates. Another notes that children spend less time exercising than they do in front of screens, whilst yet another indicates kids are spending six hours daily at a screen. A global poll determined that 72% of kids watch TV, yet just 58% play outside and 27% take part in imaginative play. In the UK, stats are a bit better, though fewer children regularly engage in rough and tumble play or sing and dance than play electronic games or watch TV. Reading for fun is down too; to the tune of 8% in five years. What impact is this decline in non-tech entertainment having on our children and why should we reduce tech in our children’s lives? Get the science-backed answer below.
1. Children are Happiest with Non-Tech Entertainment
The global survey of how children spend their time identified an interesting disparity. How children spend their time today is not what makes them happiest, as determined by a poll of the mothers. Even though 72% regularly glue themselves to a screen, mums say just 42% of children are happy doing so. For comparison, 43% say their children are happier playing with toys.
2. Declines in Play Corollate with Declines in Mental Health
Although it has not been proven that the reduced time children spend engaged in free play activities directly caused mental health declines for children, the evidence is compelling. As less time has been spent playing over the years, mental health issues ranging from depression to anxiety amongst children have skyrocketed. Researchers believe this is because this shifts children’s mindsets from being intrinsically rewarded to being extrinsically rewarded. Additionally, social isolation increases as playtime decreases, which is a major concern because isolation is directly linked to depression.
3. Imaginative Play Fosters Positive Social Behaviours
When children are given the freedom to use their imaginations, they naturally create their own worlds. This offers the opportunity to test out their social skills and learn about behaviours in a variety of settings and genuinely enhances social behaviours, according to research. As children engage in more imaginative play, their ability to express their own feelings, have empathy for others, and engage in cooperative activities also increases.
4. Play Impacts Brain Development
Play isn’t unique to humans. We see it exhibited in nearly all animals, from primates at the zoo to puppies tumbling with their littermates. Our children do this too, if left to their own devices, and scientists agree this has a pivotal impact on development. In one particular study, researchers looked into how play impacts rats by observing two groups; one which was allowed to play with others their age and one which was not. They noted those in the non-play group had weak development of the cerebellum—the area of the brain responsible for coordinating and regulating muscular activity—and believe the same disparity appears in children who are not given time to play freely.
At the same time, increased screen time results in inattention. Psychologist Aric Sigman notes, “Screen 'addiction' is increasingly being used by physicians to describe the growing number of children engaging in screen activities in a dependent manner.” He explains that “screen novelty” hijacks the brain’s natural reward system, offering up surges of dopamine. This not only creates a genuine addict-like response to screens, but harms attention spans.
5. Play Improves Health
As any parent knows, children are rarely content to sit still, even if working on an art project, reading, or engaging in imaginative play. They’re up and moving, dancing about, and acting out the scenes they’ve just read. Conversely, children at screens are largely sedentary, which puts them at risk of many health conditions. For example, children who spend three hours per day in front of screens, which is roughly half of what most kids are doing, have increased rates of obesity and diabetes. Heart disease, stroke risk, and vision problems, among others, also increase.
6. Screens are Associated with Reduced Sleep and Sleep Quality
Screens impact sleep in three major ways. First, the light emissions can trick our bodies into thinking it’s daytime, throwing the circadian rhythm off and making it difficult to sleep well. Secondly, the content viewed can change hormone balances. For example, a child viewing something exciting will get a surge of adrenaline. In order to sleep, adrenaline levels require time to normalise. Lastly, many simply trade sleep for more time on their devices, resulting in sleep deficits. Naturally, sleep problems are associated with a host of other issues, from moodiness to irritability, inattention, reduction of motor skills, health concerns, and more. Conversely, people who are active fall asleep easier and feel more rested.
Bring Back Imaginative Play this Christmas
Screens aren’t inherently bad, but when used to excess or when they displace play, they are damaging. As you explore your own gift-giving options this Christmas, consider focusing on things that encourage imaginative and active play.
At Santa’s Magical Fireplace, we believe in the power of imagination. Our miniature MAGICAL fireplaces make it easy for Santa to get into homes with no fireplace and comes complete with a wonderful storybook you can share with your wee ones, as well as magical dust and a little poem to be used to ensure the fireplace grows to accommodate Santa when he arrives. No doubt, your child will be whisked away by his or her imagination, and together, you’ll create lasting memories in the unique way only play can provide.