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Mental Health And Screen Time

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Mental health is the state of our emotional, psychological and social abilities and pressures. It affects how we think, feel and act. It helps us in determining how we manage day-to-day life, how we relate to others and the choices we make. A good mental health is important in children as it allows them to develop correctly, meeting all the required developmental milestones. It also helps them to from a young age learn resilience, confidence, social skills and in overall have a healthy outlook in and of life. Which are all important skills to gain for a lifetime.

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Screen time is the term that is used to describe time spent on any type of electronic device for entertainment purposes. Devices such as TV’s, video consoles, smartphones and tablets are` considered part of this. A debate amongst parents and health care professionals has arisen on the definition of screen time; how much screen time should children be having and what are the actual effects of screen time. The majority say that they feel as though the amount of screen time children are allowed is only affecting them negatively in all aspects of life, such as pulling back there drive to learning, promoting no sense of social skills and a lost in their emotional consciousness and awareness. However, many parents argue that if anything, screen time, has helped there children in learning by encouraging there children in the amount of drive in there learning and how hands on they are during it.

Another argument to differ the screen time debate is that screen time is actually opening up new topics for their children to discuss and widen their vocabulary. This debate is not something the government are very much interested in hearing, as The Department of Health Australia has set recommended guidelines up for young children and parents to follow. This is that children younger than 2 years of age should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic devices and children 2 to 5 years of age, sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic devices should be limited to less than 1 hour per day. However, it appears that no matter what the activity, high amounts of leisure screen time are linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Many believe that too much time spent watching TV increases a child risk of anxiety. Media fantasy such as villains, heroes or even magic shown in segments are the drivers of this claim. The theory behind this is that at a young age children find it hard to identify the differences between real and fake and when exposed to things such as magic, villains or heroes in movies and TV shows it can frighten and confuse them and, in some cases, introduce fears that can last in to adulthood, a prime example of this being clowns, a typical character too see on media at a young age and a typical fear found in many at an older age.

Another contributor to this theory is news segments. Many families watch the news at some stage during the night and for a young child, many stories and imagery included in these segments can also cause confusion and frighten the child due to the disturbing content. A recent post to a global journalism website ‘The Conversation’ was a story of a mother by the name of Caroline who struggled to get her daughter to attend school as her daughter saw the news on TV about a terrorist bombing in a school that had occurred that day where children and adults were killed. Her daughter had a difficult time sleeping that night and was refusing to eat breakfast the following morning. When Caroline asked her daughter what was wrong, she explained her fear in going to school and how she didn’t want to die at such a young age. Death is a fear common in many and also commonly found on our media. So the main point of the argument is that children today are growing up in a world where fear for their own safety is common, a major trigger of anxiety. However many rebut this argument by points such as the social benefits of screen time include bonding time between the child and family and the ability that media is able to broaden their vocabulary making it easier for children to communicate and socialize.

As well as educational benefits teaching them different types of emotion and what they look like, stimulating concentration and that most TV shows young children watch include number and letter sequences and patterns. This leaves us at the question of is screen time really bad for our children’s overall mental health. Another screen time debate is video games and their ability to heighten negative emotions in a child. The strong driven argument again relates back to the fact that young children are unable to identify the differences between real and fake. Young children are more likely to confuse fantasy violence with real world violence leading to them possibly mimicking the actions they see in violent video games. Video games encourage them to act out aggressively or socially incorrect as violent video games usually encourage fighting as a way of dealing with conflict by rewarding violent actions with rewards such as more weapons or moving on to higher levels, making children and teenagers think that this behavior is acceptable out in places in the real world, places such as school. This also causes them to have a decrease in emotional regulation and emotional understanding, lowering their empathy and kindness, especially when it comes to violence and violent behavior, not being able to see a wrong in it.

Another compelling point in this argument is down to the fact that we have seen perpetrators in our media with unstable mental health’s who in return have committed horrible acts admit to the use of video games being a contributor to their crimes. James Holmes, Colorado movie mass shooting, killing 12 people and injuring 70, Jared Lee Loughner, Arizona parking lot shooting, killing 6 people and injuring 15 and Andrew Breivik, Norway terrorist attacks, killing 77 people, have all admitted that they had spent excessive amounts of time practicing and planning their attacks through video games such as Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty. However the point to rebut this argument is also quite strong as it is all backed by statistics. Sales of violent video games have increased while juvenile violent crimes have decreased. Sales increased by 204% from 1994 to 2014 while violent crimes decreased 37%. The number of high school students who had been involved in a physical fight decreased 43% in 1991 to 25% in 2013 and student reports of bullying had dropped by more than half from 1995 to 2011. So the question at hand is do video games really heighten emotions that could be detrimental.

We are left with questions that will all come down to personal opinions, but many studies have been carried out to try and sway these opinions. Pediatrics studying at the university of Bristol, located in England, conducted a study involving 1000 children aged 10 to put the debate to a test. An activity monitor recorded all children over seven days covering five sections of mental health; emotional difficulties, conduct problems, hyperactivity or inattention, friendships and peer groups and problems relating to friends and peer groups. The study found that those children who spent more than two hours per day watching TV or using a computer were at an increased risk of psychological difficulties. This risk increased if they also failed to meet the guidelines on physical activity. A study conducted at the Indiana university school of medicine examined boys and violent media exposure. A MRI scan of the brain was taken before the experiment begun. After 7 consecutive days of playing violent video games another MRI scan was taken with visible changes present. There was a decrease in the activity of the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that does your thinking. This allows you to concentrate, decision make and self-control. A greater amount of activity in the amygdala was present which is the emotional control of the brain which has the ability to trigger emotions such as anger, aggression or cause impulsive behavior, depression or anxiety. Another study was conducted in Sydney at the Macquarie university children and families research center. They found that children who watch violent movies are more likely to see the world as unsympathetic, malicious and a scary place. This triggers the amygdala area of the brain, putting children at an increased risk of depression, anxiety or an emotion disorder.

These studies prove that a constant embed of confusion, fear, aggression or violent behaviour in a young child while developing is detrimental to the their mental health. Mental health problems affect 1 in 10 young children. This includes depression, anxiety and conduct disorders. This is all usually brought on by and is a direct response to what is happening in their life or what they have been exposed too. Anxiety and fear tend children to shut off from society and the world to try and avoid an uncomfortable feeling embedded into them by what they have been exposed to that created the initial feeling. Poor emotional intelligence and anger issues force a child to detach from society as well to avoid being unable to control and understand what they’re feeling or react in a socially unacceptable way. This unfortunately sets a tone for their future, creating major social skill flaws and emotional regulation struggles. This leads to a more serious case of anxiety and possibly depression. Something they may live with for years or even the rest of their life without seeking help. This shows that a good mental health is important for the development of a child and can be affected greatly by as something as simple as too much screen time on video games and TV.

15 July 2020

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