As we clicked over into the 21st century, chiropractors were busily teaching people about proper ergonomic principles for setting up a computer workstation. At that time, prolonged computer use was largely limited to sedentary adult office workers, who used desktop type computers at the office. While we recognised the significance of this situation at the time, none of us foresaw just how big and far reaching the issue of screen time would become over the next 18 years.
As desktop computers were replaced by portable devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones, we not only saw people using their devices at any time at home as well as at the office, but the applications available for use catered to teenagers and children as well as adults. We now have the option of using portable screen devices for work, study or entertainment, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and this applies to anyone from babies and toddlers to the elderly.
Adelaide parents are increasingly being faced with the pressures of deciding how much they should allow their children to spend time using electronic devices. Ironically, there are an ever-growing number of apps to track your usage statistics on phones and tablets, but I think we can all agree that the rate of usage is only going in one direction.
The Australian Spinal Research Foundation is Australia’s most prominent supporter of research into chiropractic. Their website features information derived from government sources both here in South Australia as well as overseas, in terms of the researched effects of screen time on children. As you might expect, the results are a cause for concern.
The article text is as follows:
“Research is now showing direct links between screen time and obesity, with the South Australian Department of Health stating that “TV viewing may contribute to overweight and obesity through electronic media displacing other activities such as free play and structured physical activity, increased snacking or increased demand for energy dense foods which are heavily advertised .” It also pointed to a study of pre-schoolers aged 1 – 4 that showed a child’s risk of being overweight increased by 6% for every hour of television watched per day .
But the weight concern isn’t the only concern associated with screen time. Poorer sleep, social skills, and cognitive skills are also concerns along with the physiological impacts such as poor posture, injuries to the thumbs, wrists and elbows, and deteriorating eyesight . “Research now indicates that for every hour of television children watch each day, their risk of developing attention-related problems later increases by ten percent. For example, if a child watches three hours of television each day, that child would be thirty percent more likely to develop attention deficit disorder .
So just how many kids watch more than 2 hours TV per day? Apparently it’s half of all 5-15 year olds and up to 92% of 12-17 year olds in Australia . In one UK study, it was found that:
- 37 percent of parents surveyed said that their child spent between one and two hours a day playing with tech gadgets
- 28 percent said between two to three hours were spent on tech gadgets
- 38 percent of 2 – 5 year olds owned an android tablet
- 32 percent owned an iPad
- Almost of a third of those kids also had a mobile phone
- More than 35% of parents interviewed said they use tech gadgets to entertain their childen because they are convenient
- 23 percent said they use tech gadgets to entertain their children because they want their children to be tech-savvy.
Additionally, “A 2015 survey of 1,000 British mothers of children aged 2 to 12 found that 85 percent of mums admit to using technology to keep the kids occupied while they get on with other activities. The AO.com survey pointed to children spending on average around 17 hours a week in front of a screen – almost double the 8.8 weekly hours spent playing outside .”
Psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman remarks that, “whether it’s Facebook, the internet or computer games, screen time is no longer merely a cultural issue about how children spend their leisure time, nor is it confined to concern over the educational value or inappropriate content – it’s a medical issue .”
Dr. Victoria Dunckley, an integrative child psychiatrist, wrote on the matter for Psychology Today and focused on what happens when the child becomes a teen. The article drew together concerning research on excessive screen time and specifically internet/gaming addiction in teen boys. In it, she gave a strong directive to parents:
“In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life – from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills. Use this research to strengthen your own parental position on screen management, and to convince others to do the same .”
She is referring to brain scan research findings in screen addiction . Some of the findings include grey matter atrophy, compromised white matter integrity, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive function, cravings and impaired dopamine function. This has the potential to impact everything from planning and organisation to impulse control and social functions. This may sound extreme, but other studies are showing just how anxious a teen can get when separated from their smart phone or electronic device .
So what do we do about all of this? Go slow, say the experts. It takes time to change habits, and it’s important for parents to lead by example . Among the strategies for reduced screen time are :
- Unplugged bedrooms, where TV’s computers or devices aren’t allowed.
- Unplugged mealtimes, where families sit and talk to each other rather than binging on the nightly viewing.
- Screen time schedules, which include no screen time in the hour before bed.
- Encouraging other activities like reading, board games, puzzles, or outdoor activities.
- Talking to older children about smart choices with regard to TV, media and the advertising on it.
It’s a problem we’d never have to tackle a generation ago, but technology is here and its here to stay. Avoiding screen time altogether might be a difficult or even impossible task given the myriad of tech-gadgets that intersect with us through-out the day, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make some positive steps to protect the young brains in our care. It all starts with information”
Chiropractors in Adelaide have always been advocates of good posture and ergonomics when it comes to work stations. We do have concerns regarding the long term ramifications of not only starting to use screens so much earlier in life when the spine is still developing, but also the amount of time being spent on them on an ongoing basis. It is easy to see that young people on their phones have terrible posture, and this may become a source of long term spinal problems.
A Danish study7 in 2006 made the following conclusion “Our study clearly demonstrates correlations between back pain in childhood/adolescence and back pain in adulthood. This should lead to a change in focus from the adult to the young population in relation to research, prevention, and treatment”. The increased use of devices from a younger age does not bode well for the future. Back problems are already major cause of disability in the workplace, and present a huge cost to the health system. This is likely to grow exponentially as a result of bad posture and health habits that accompany increased screen time over a longer time.
At Walkerville Chiropractic, we urge parents to take a responsible approach to limiting screen time in children for the sake of their developmental health. We also encourage you to have them professionally checked for developing spinal problems along the journey from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood so that any problems arising can be dealt with promptly.
 Staff Writer, (2015), “Give the Screen a Rest. Active Play is Best” South Australian Department of Health, retrieved 1 April 2016
 Staff Writer (2016), “Switch off the screen,” Healthy Kids (An initiative of NSW Ministry of Health, NSW Department of Education, Office of Sport and the Heart Foundation) retrieved 1 April 2016
 Jary, S (2015), “How much screen time is healthy for children?” PC Advisor, retrieved 1 April 2016
 Dunckley, V (2014), “Gray matters: too much screen time damages the brain,” Psychology Today, retrieved 1 April 16
 Rosen, L (2015), “Iphone Separation Anxiety,” Psychology Today, retrieved 1 April 2016
 Beard, C Ed. (2011), “TV and Kids: How to cut screen time,” Web MD retrieved 1 April 2016
 Hestbaek L, Leboeuf-Yde C, Kyvik KO, Manniche C. The course of low back pain from adolescence to adulthood: eight-year follow-up of 9600 twins. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006 Feb 15;31(4):468-72.