The whole world is now a digital one. The gaming and social media boom among children and teenagers has been made possible by the ubiquity of technology driven by increased mobility of devices. Our children now have more information and resources at their fingertips than ever before.

Used in the right way, and with the right balance, technology can be an extremely useful resource for all and can aid learning in many ways with the help of teachers and parents, offering uniquely creative ways to learn. However, these positive aspects can be outweighed by the potential downsides, with many families struggling with the issue that their children are having too much ‘screen time’. This issue can lead to children experiencing social skills deficits, having poor concentration, attentional difficulties, sleep problems and to low mood at times.

Technology, including gaming, social media and use of the internet, can become addictive when overused, which consequently impacts education related to the behavior problems outlined above with the outcome of low motivation and the use of ‘screen time’ as a way of avoiding studying or dealing with challenging pieces of homework. Over time this can lead to depression, low self-esteem, anxiety disorders and other mental health problems. Parents and families must carefully monitor the use of technology by children and teenagers and should set time limits for their use and be careful that children are not using directly before bed.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to duration. Generally speaking though, anything in excess of three to four hours per day spent playing electronic games or watching TV is excessive. Of course, there may be days when this is more but these should be the exception rather than the rule. Children are becoming too sedentary and should be encouraged to spend time outdoors, to exercise, to play sport and to socialise with others.

Children below one year could benefit from learning songs, seeing pictures and watching cartoons. However, it is essential that this is an experience that includes parents or other family. Babies should not be left to watch cartoons and songs on an iPad or other tablet alone for long periods of time. This is a “quick fix” that may help to keep them quiet and engaged for a time, but it can lead to all kinds of developmental delays, including cognitive, emotional, psychological and verbal language development if they have been left in front of “a screen” for long periods of time during their early years.

The internet is a fantastic resource but it is full of traps which our children can fall into, thus e-security is very important. There are many websites with undesirable content in all kinds of ways. Also, in terms of social media and chatrooms, many people use false identities and could ultimately be harmful. We have a duty to our children to monitor and ensure their safety. Making them aware that their internet usage is being monitored especially during teenage years helps set a boundary that may be resisted but is ultimately helpful.

Parents with concerns over “screen time” problems with their children should seek professional help if their own efforts to tackle the problem have not been successful. We should also remember that as adults, many of us have become reliant on our mobile phones and iPads in a way that we never were previously. It is a fine line. However, “screen time” can be a problem for adults and children alike these days. Many children will follow the inadvertent examples set by their mother or father. As such, family time is hindered. The overuse of technology and addiction to internet and other screen-based technology is also driving many married couples apart.

Written by Dr David Lee – a UK trained Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Camali Clinic in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He has extensive experience of working with children and families, as well in working with adults.

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