Safe? Not Safe?
In a recent article in the Journal of Child Development it was suggested that children's use of a mobile phone during the nighttime can lead to increased risk of anxiety and depression (1).
There are some obvious differences between the childhoods of the younger generations, and generations born in the 80s. When I was younger there was no such thing as a mobile phone - you saw them occasionally in brief cases that housed the battery.
Mobile gaming came out in the late 80s (2) and they were basic monochrome games. Even games consoles were totally different with the NES (I used to love Duck Hunt), the Sinclair Spectrum, and the Mega Drive.
The world of mobile gaming that the children of today experience and expect was not even really imaginable when I was a child. The thought of having a mobile phone would never have crossed my mind. I did actually get my first mobile phone when I was 16 - an Ericsson GA628 and I loved that phone. Not sure it had SMS though as it was a feature not yet introduced.
Anyway, it is quite difficult for modern parents to fully comprehend the lives of a modern child as the things that are now available were not even featuring in our childhood dreams.
If we ditch the mobile phones and other devices, then we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Research presented at the 2016 World Congress of Anaesthethesiorogists suggested that children that play on an iPad before surgery experience lower anxieties and thus experience a better anaesthetic induction (3). This suggests that mobile devices do have some benefit for children. Mobile devices are also increasingly used as tools to deliver psychological interventions and engage children in therapy. There are many benefits to be had, yet they have a place within life - they are not the be-all of life.
One of the reasons why iPad use reduces anxieties before an operation is due to the child being distracted from a potentially scary event - being cut open! Distraction from unpleasantness can be functional as a behaviour, yet if used too often can become dysfunctional. In the same way that alcohol can be a functional way to reduce stress, yet persistent use can become dysfunctional - it can become an addiction without you even realising. Children are not the only ones at risk of addiction to smart devices, adults are severely prone to it too. I am sure we have all seen groups of people in a restaurant, heads down on their mobile phones all night, no interaction with the human friends and family around them. An article in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking found that parents who themselves have addictive patterns with smartphones are less likely to perceive their children's addictions as problematic and also less likely to be a good role model for their children (4). The Journal of Child Development suggests that parental use of technology has a negative impact on child behaviour (5.). Some seem to believe this new connected world keeps us connected with friends and family yet another recent study suggests that is not necessarily the case, with the compulsive use of mobile phones being related to lesser feelings of connection to friends and family (6).
It is important that technology is incorporated into life, yet doesn't take over life completely. Face-to-face social interactions, outdoor playtime, technology-free family time (such as board games), reading, physical exercise, and conversations all play a vital role to child and adult development. Having a full and varied life increases the chances of intellectual development, and a fit and healthy child (7). I would suggest, as I would with any adult suffering with anxiety and insomnia, that tech gets switched off 30-60 minutes before bedtime so you can settle down with a book - allowing the brain to start preparing for sleep.
I'm a doctor of psychology, born in Guernsey, educated at a tertiary level in Bristol, Bath, and London. Having worked and trained with some of the leading Health Psychologists in the UK, and having a passion about how Health Psychology can truly benefit many people, I now want to spread the word, as well as offer consultations to people wanting to make changes in their lives.