Screen time – how much is too much?

With the last few years of lockdowns this has opened up new opportunities for the gaming industry to expand and draw in new players. According to the FT online (Sept 2020), games such as Roblox and Fortnite have moved in to the number one and two spots for kids pocket money spend, and the PlayStation 5, over the Christmas period was so hugely popular that supply couldn’t keep up with the demand.

As a partner of someone who has three boys - 9, 11 and 16yrs, who are all into gaming, the phrases: ‘let’s do something else now’ and ‘that’s enough screen time’ may well resonate with many of you. But how much is too much and how do we get them re-energised and interested in doing those ‘other’ things?

The positives and the negatives

There are benefits to gaming, and after talking with other families, I feel it has been a welcome distraction and even perhaps a life line for many during this time coping with the pandemic. Children and young people have been able to connect with their friends online in different households being entertained and focused for many hours which has helped to stave off feelings of anxiety, boredom and loneliness.

However, the main problem with gaming, is that it doesn’t get you moving. Research has shown that even some of the more active games where children were given the options to choose and play freely, they either didn’t choose these games or if they did, then didn’t play them to a high enough level to raise their heart rates to receive the physical benefits that are needed daily.

Despite this, a study was done in the summer term 2020 by Sport England comparing 2019 and 2020 summer terms - Active Lives Children and Young People Survey Coronavirus (Covid-19) Report Mid-May to late-July 2020 (the summer term) where children were asked about what sports and physical activities they had been involved in. Whilst taking part in team games, swimming and athletics had decreased with facilities being closed, there was a noticeable increase in young people going for walks, cycling and taking part in fitness.

It has been a welcome and noticeably familiar site here in Dorset for families to be getting outdoors and participating together. Sales of gym equipment have been on the rise, bike sales outstripped supply and more people having been taking to the water, paddle boarding and finding wild places to swim even in the cold!!

But due to the lack of playing specific team sports and weekend training sessions, understandably, the report did find that childrens’ confidence with some skills had decreased. Also the response to the statement, ‘If I find something difficult, I keep trying until I can do it’ had also decreased showing that children had less determination and resilience than the year before. So it seems more than ever it is so important to keep encouraging kids to get out of doors to play, move and explore to not only challenge them mentally but physically too.

Engaging in outdoor adventures

Face to face, physical contact (even if more limited at the moment) is so important to teach them how to develop good relationships. Although when gaming, they do communicate with their friends, it’s generally limited to the game and at extreme high pace. Being outside, having adventures, interacting, enables them to be more socially expressive with light and shade in the pace and to build good behaviour skills such as turn taking or compromise. When out, we often see them role playing characters from their games, transporting their fantasy world to the outdoors but it gives them the opportunity to expand their imagination but still be in touch with reality.

Being outdoors also ensures young people are getting essential levels of vitamin D and could also reduce their chance of needing glasses by give their eyes a break from prolonged use of screens.

Strike a balance

Whilst I appreciate that the boys enjoy gaming and it does have benefits for them such as stress relief and relaxation, I hope that by leading by example and positively encouraging them to get out and take a break from their screens, exposing them to a wider choice of outdoor experiences, then hopefully they will find ones that they like and perhaps may want to pursue as a hobbie, a passion or even a career. Maybe then, they will choose themselves to take a break and get out and about.

At Rockley, we have a range of different options to get out of doors, away from screens for both children, adults and families with our new land based site adding to our portfolio to offer many options for both multi activity and courses.

We look forward to seeing you, as soon as we can, to welcome you back to our amazing outdoor playground!

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