How the impact of technology can influence kids’ socialising abilities and fitness levels

From social media platforms to smart gadgets, kids all over the UK seem to be becoming more involved with technology. What effect is it having on them? 

Chill Factore offer lift passes, fun family days out, and skiing and snowboarding lessons for sports-fans of all ages and have decided to look into this issue and explore whether gadgets and technology really do influence our kids. Can it cause poor communication skills and reduced physical activity as some say or do they encourage and help our children? 

Apparently, UK households have approximately 18 smart devices! How crazy is that? I can think of six in our house – two smartphones, three tablets and a smart TV. Even that seems too much to me! The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) discovered that many homes have multiple TV sets, rather than only one that perhaps remains downstairs. We have two – one downstairs and one in our room (which used to be in Jack’s).

As of the end of 2017, 11.54 million households owned one television set, 8.66 million owned two television sets, 4.11 million owned three television sets and 1.75 million owned four television sets. Do we really need that many? Smart speakers, including Google Home and Microsoft’s Cortana, are becoming ever more popular in the UK. Research actually discovered that there was a 212% year-on-year increase of these gadgets across the world in in 2017, with the UK and US making up an approximate 89% of the market. Smart speakers are designed to provide fast and simple ways to attain information. Yes they can be handy and help with kids’ learning — but do they also eliminate the necessity or desire to explore ideas and topics in depth, and could this affect a child’s ability to discuss ideas with friends, face to face?  What do you think?

How technology influences children’s physical health  

It’s a well-worn argument that watching too much TV or playing too many online games impact negatively on physical health — but are there any positives regarding kids’ fitness and technology use? According to an Ofcom 2017 media use report, 53% of 3-4-year-olds go online for 8 hours a week, 79% of 5-7-year-olds go online for 9 hours a week, 94% of 8-11-year-olds go online for 13.5 hours a week, 99% of 12-15-year-olds go online for 21 hours a week. This is a big jump in both percentages and hours as we go up in age, is this because their internet time isn’t as regulated?

It shocks me that less than 10% of parents state that their children (aged between 5-16 years) participate in the one hour a day of physical activity, which is the amount that the government recommends. Is smart tech stopping them from doing this? It may be possible that technology is not entirely to blame. To explore this idea, we’ll look at the use of technology in previous generations. According to The World Health Organization, the amount of obese youths aged 5-19 years has risen tenfold in the past four decades. Although we could also accuse diet and education of playing a part in this worrying figure, technology should arguably also be held partially accountable, as its influence and use have clearly grown during this time frame. 

What positives are there for tech use by children though? There are many, actually. YouTube is a great platform for watching tutorial videos that can help kids practice a sport and there are consoles like Nintendo Wii which encourage physical movement. There are  also many child-friendly apps for everything from yoga to running that are created to help get kids active. Plus, many after-school sports clubs run Facebook and Twitter accounts to persuade kids surfing online to join. Jack’s after school sports club does this!.

How technology influences children’s social skills  

Social media platforms can help kids to maintain relationships with friends, while programs like Skype allow tutors to speak with pupils and carry out lessons in a virtual classroom. Smartphones are also good for helping kids stay in contact with their parents when they’re out, there’s no denying they have their uses.

Of course, with the news reports reading cyber bullying, many believe that using technology to socialise is a bad thing. Research conducted at Newcastle University discovered that primary school kids who watched up to three hours of TV a day were better communicators at secondary school. Watching more than three hours however was thought to lower linguistic skills. This research is a cause for concern as is the research that states 96% of 3-4-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 15 hours a week, 95% of 5-7-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 13.5 hours a week, 95% of 8-11-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14 hours a week and 91% of 12-15-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14.5 hours a week. Seems almost positive but this doesn’t include stuff such as YouTube!

So, what do medical experts think about technology use and how this can affect a child’s ability to speak with peers in a face-to-face environment? Child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York, Melissa Ortega, said that children use their phones as an “avoidance strategy” and can have trouble starting “those small talk situations”. Similarly, Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston Medical Center, claimed that kids “learn by watching,” and suggested that if they aren’t taking part in physical socialisation, opting for screens instead, then they are not participating in crucial communication development stages.

Top ways you can encourage physical activity and social interaction in children

Technology is here to stay, so how do parents incorporate it safely into their children’s lives? Here are some tips on getting kids involved in activities to improve their fitness and social abilities:

  • Organise fun group activities to boost fitness and socialising — like the Chill Factore kids snow school.
  • Ban phones from the dinner table to encourage conversation.
  • Stop your child from taking their phones/tablets to bed. The blue light emitted from these devices harms sleep quality.
  • Start cycling or walking with your child to school.
  • Take your child and their friends to a sports venue regularly to help improve physical activity and socialising in one go.  
  • Arrange family hikes.
  • Find apps on your child’s phone that are designed to encourage physical activity.
  • Ask your child if they want to be involved in a school club. Whether it’s sports-based or not, it should still get them away from their screens and socialising.

It seems that technology has both pros and cons However, it will always be important to get active and make time for socialising. If not overused, your child should be fine to engage with technology on a daily basis, perhaps just limit your child’s time and adopt some of the above tips to make sure that technology doesn’t adversely affect your child’s social or physical development.

Want to help your kids get active? Plan a visit to Chill Factore in Manchester to enjoy skiing, snowboarding and other fun snow activities on the UK’s longest indoor real snow slope. Contact us today for more information.

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