Technology is fast evolving and now, kids of all ages seem to be getting involved with everything from tablets and phones, to social media and smart TVs. What effect is this having on their social and physical wellbeing though?

The impact of devices and online platforms has conjured up heated debates for many years, some experts state that technology causes poor communication skills and reduces physical activity. Others claim that gadgets can help kids keep in touch with friends and can help to boost physical fitness. Here, we explore the effects of technology on children’s health and ability to socialise…   


Kids use of technology in the UK – 

According to BARB, Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, as of the end of 2017, 11.54 million households owned one television set, while 8.66 million had two, 4.11 million owned three, and 1.75 million had four. Another recent survey by Samsung found that UK households also have on average 18 smart devices — including mobiles, tablets and TVs — while other research has forecasted that iPad use will increase to 18.1 million users by 2019. This shows that children seem to have easy access to tablets and other forms of technology. Maybe this makes it easier for kids to stay indoors and sit with their technology, rather than heading outdoors for fresh air and exercise.

But what about emerging technologies? Smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, are growing in popularity in the UK. Futuresource found that there was a global year-on-year increase of 212% in smart speakers in 2017, with the UK and US estimated to be the key markets — accounting for an approximate 89%. It’s obvious that families throughout the UK love their gadgets!


Technology and social skills –

When it comes to socialising, many people praise the use of technology. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow children to maintain relationships with friends who may live in a different area, while programs like Skype help teachers conduct one-to-one tuition sessions in virtual classrooms. From a safety perspective, smartphones also allow kids to easily keep in touch with their parents when they aren’t in their care, which is certainly a bonus. What’s more, a report by Unicef discovered that technology helped kids boost their existing relationships with friends, while also assisting those who struggled to socialise easily in person.

Although there are advantages of allowing a close relationship between kids and technology, many still claim that overuse can be detrimental.  Research carried out at Newcastle University found that primary school kids who consumed up to three hours of television a day grew up to be better communicators at secondary school. However, watching any more than three hours was believed to lead to poorer linguistic skills. Bad communication could significantly impact our kids’ ability to make connections, participate in the classroom and promote themselves during university and first-job interviews — so how much TV are our kids watching? According to an Ofcom 2017 media use report:

  • 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.
  • 91% of 12-15-year-olds watch TV on a TV set for 14.5 hours a week.

Although these statistics might indicate that children aren’t consuming more than the three-hour-a-day limit per week, this report also showed that more than 48% of each age group — 90% in the 12-15-year-old category — also watched YouTube videos on top of TV.  This makes it even more difficult to control the amount of screen times kids are getting and may mean that they are sat behind a screen more often than we think..

How can using technology affect health? – 

Evidently, the impact of technology on kids’ social skills has arguments for and against — but what is the consensus when it comes to its effect on physical health? As we’ve seen from the above figures, most children are engaging with technology for several hours a week — which could be time spent enjoying physical activities. According to the Ofcom 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.

That’s a lot of time spent engaging in a sedentary activity. Worryingly, only 9% of parents claim that their children (aged 5-16 years) achieve the government’s recommendation of one hour a day of physical activity. 60 minutes is reportedly the least amount of time needed to maintain good health, however, it appears that the trend for social media, video games, YouTube, Netflix and other technology may be causing a reduction in physical activities.

How do we know that it is technology that is causing a decrease in physical health? Since the major advances in technology have been recent, we could look at childhood fitness in previous generations. The World Health Organization has reported that the number of obese young adults aged 5-19 years has risen tenfold in the past 40 years. Although diet and education may also be to blame, technology should arguably also be held partially accountable for this global problem.

Many say that tablets and online platforms can encourage kids to be more active. YouTube is packed with tutorial videos that can help kids get into and practice a particular sport, while games like Nintendo Wii combine the virtual world with physical movement. Then, you have a host of engaging, child-friendly apps for everything from yoga to running that are designed to get kids off the sofa, plus plenty of after-school sports clubs that have Facebook and Twitter accounts to persuade kids surfing online to join.


Encouraging physical activity and social interaction –

We know that technology has both good and bad points. Here are a few ways to help make sure you kids are getting the balance right:

  • Think of fun group activities that your kids can work at and improve in — such as skiing or snowboarding lessons.
  • Ask your kids not to use phones at the table during mealtimes, so that you can make time for conversation.
  • Look through the App Store on your child’s phone together to find apps that encourage physical activity — that way, they get to keep their phone while moving more.  
  • Walk or cycle to school together.
  • Take your child and their friends bowling, swimming or to a soft-play venue once every few weeks.  
  • Organise a family hike somewhere different one weekend every month.
  • Find out what clubs there are at your child’s school and in your local area. Getting a hobby is great to get the kids out of the house and it’s even better to get them socialising with others.
  • Try to limit the amount of screen time before bed.

In this day and age technology van be a huge benefit to children. It helps them learn and develop skills for the future. The key is to make sure that children are not overusing technology. It’s important to make sure they are enjoying other aspects of their life too!

This article was researched and created by Chill Factore, which offers lift passes to the UK’s longest indoor real snow slope.