Digital media menace

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Students speak out on screen time, sleep and life satisfaction

Is screen time affecting children’s mental and physical well-being? Does technology use impact elementary, middle and high school students differently? These questions are behind an extensive research project led by two UBCO professors. 

Dr. Ali McManus

Thanks to a $150,000 grant (funded by the Tree of Hope and TD Bank), Dr. Ali McManus and Dr. Lesley Lutes are talking with students in grades 3 to 9 about their technology use. 

“Digital media and its use by children are evolving fast,” says McManus, clinical psychologist and professor in Health and Exercise Sciences. “We want to determine if it’s a health threat and what we could do as a community to lessen risks.” 

So far, about 200 students and their parents have provided confidential information about screen time, body mass index, activity levels, sleep time and life satisfaction. Although still early, Kelowna students appear on par with previous Canadian research, which found only one-quarter of all Canadian children meet recommended daily screen time of fewer than two hours.

“As children transition from primary to middle school, their physical activity declines and sedentary behaviour increases. Alongside this transition are risks. We know that higher smartphone/tablet use is predictive of higher BMI, higher blood pressure and most troubling is the strong association between use and poor emotional and mental well-being — high stress, inability to cope,” she says.

Dr. Lesley Lutes

Interviews will continue through March 2019 in any school willing to take part.

“Once we have a large and varied enough sample size, and the data analyzed, our goal is to start sharing our findings with the schools, stakeholders and City officials to initiate conversations, “ says fellow researcher Lutes, a registered psychologist, associate professor and director of clinical training in the Psychology Department. 

“We hope discussions lead to preventative strategies aimed at primary school kids, and early intervention strategies aimed at middle and high school students to reduce negative mental and physical health impacts. 

“Just like the data on the impact of physical activity and nutrition on health, the worldwide data is very clear that we need to develop initiatives aimed at how we can support improved healthy social media use.”

Recommended screen time limits 

  • None for children under 2
  • One hour a day for children 2 to 5
  • Two hours a day for children 5+

Source: Canadian Pediatric Society, November 2017