The effect on today’s children of large amounts of screen time is not entirely clear, but has Auckland University of Technology academic Dr Erik Landhuis concerned.
Dr Landhuis is a researcher who takes a particular interest in psychological development.
He says a number of studies put the average media consumption for children between five and seven hours per day, and up to 15 hours per day if simultaneous consumption is counted separately.
This comfortably exceeds the recommended amount suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The increased screen time can lead to problems such as obesity, difficulty paying attention, antisocial behaviour, reduced fitness through sedentary lifestyle, reduced sleep time and reduced social activity.
“The main things that concern me are the effect of media use on social development and social competence,” Dr Landhuis says.
“I worry that devices are increasingly replacing face-to-face contact between children and that may impede their ability to communicate effectively with others later in life.”
His other main concern is around technology outsourcing people’s cognitive functions such as memory and attention. However, some critics suggest that this opens up more space for creativity and problem solving, an idea he is open to.
Dr Landhuis admits some media, such as Sesame Street, can be considered educational, improving language and social behaviour.
“The problem is most material available to children now does not fit into the educational category.”
He has two daughters of his own, aged six and eight, and recommends parents using the Common
Sense Media website (commonsensemedia.org) for advice on material. He limits his children’s screen time to three hours viewing per week and avoids letting them use smart phones or iPads.
He says it has become harder to minimise children’s screen time today because of the number of mediums offering it and the use of technology in schools.
Wellsford School is one of many to incorporate technology use into its education programme, with a bring your own device policy for students in Year 4 and above.
Wellsford School principal Dave Bradley says that devices are a great way to engage reluctant learners and make available a huge range of resources, but management of their use is important.
“The overuse of technology has risks to health, wellbeing and social skills development, and the internet can be a dangerous place,” Mr Bradley says.
“Our timetables are carefully constructed to ensure students are still physically active during the day and engage in collaborative learning to maintain social development. They are also taught about cyber safety and the appropriate use of the device.”
Both Wellsford and Matakana School have signed agreements in place for children using devices.
Matakana School principal Darrel Goosen says the national curriculum requires the use of technology now, but schools must follow the guideline documents for its use set out by the government in 2015.