Recently, I was visited by a relative who I had not seen for a while who sat in the garden and whilst we talked, flicked through their social media, hardly taking their eyes from the screen.
Younger and younger children are being introduced to iPads and other devices as part of our growing dependence on screen technology.
Some schools give them out as a learning aid. A connected life is becoming the norm with more and more educational time being spent online. Screen time is becoming an ever-increasing part of daily life that has already changed the fabric of our society.
It was with great interest that I heard that China was passing laws to limit the time young people can spend playing online games, branding them as ‘spiritual opium’ and ‘electronic drugs’.
The worry is that young people in China are becoming addicted to games such as Honour of Kings that some children play for up to a staggering eight hours a day
According to the office of the Children’s Commissioner, 93 per cent of British children take part in online gaming with some spending up to five hours per day on line. That is a phenomenal amount of time. It is also eroding family life and leading to cyber bullying and mental health issues for some young people.
If the situation is the same in China, then it is no wonder that the government there has intervened to save its children and Britain should be doing the same.
Like everything, it starts with the family. For some people, the computer is an ideal child-minder, giving parents the freedom to do other things. It is not uncommon for parents to park their offspring in front of a computer screen whilst they check their phones. Children copy the habits of their parents.
Every weekday morning, a woman passes my house taking her children to school. In her hand is a smartphone. As she walks it is easy to see her attention is within the phone. Her children follow on behind in silence as she pushes a pram with one hand, a stark example of modern life.
We learn most by the example of our parents and good and bad habits are soon copied. Parents are inadvertently teaching their children to become a generation of phone addicted ‘phonbies’. If children see that parents are behind a screen all day, every day, then they’ll think that it’s acceptable and will want to do the same.
Early data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) study which began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.
I have to ask why schools are increasing the use of screen time learning when it can have physiological effects on children’s health? What is wrong with traditional methods? Children now spend all day working on a screen at school and then spend all night playing computer games.
With evidence and data such as this, it is a wonder that our own government hasn’t acted on internet and gaming use of young people.
Surely, we owe it to future generations to make a safe, screen free place for our children? Addiction to gaming is set to become a very serious issue and as yet we do not know the extent of the damage being done.
Yes, the internet is a great place of learning and research and I have to admit that if I were a child in this day and age, I would probably be spending many hours a day surfing the web. However, that doesn’t make it good or right. In my life, I have succumbed to many harmful habits that I wish others had stopped me doing.
China is setting an example that the rest of the world should follow. It does not allow anonymous users of the internet and registration is a key factor.
If it can be done there, then it can be done here.
The great difference is that the Chinese government isn’t afraid to stand up to media giants and is willing to play hard ball.
They are not living in the pockets of City Bankers seeking higher profits from the £60bn gaming market.
We are living at a time when internet gaming amongst young people has to be controlled. This cannot be left in the hands of parents.
China has set a standard that the rest of the world should follow.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster. He lives in East Yorkshire.
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