Game Play Has No Negative Affect On Children?

A UK longitudinal study carried out on over 11, 000 children by the Medical Research Council at the University of Glasgow concluded that:

  • Watching TV for 3 hours or more daily at 5 years predicted increasing conduct problems between the ages of 5 years and 7 years.
  • No effects of TV at 5 years were found on hyperactivity/inattention, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems or prosocial behaviour.
  • Playing electronic games at 5 years was not associated with increased risk of problems.

The results are interesting but I do feel rather than take them at face value, it is important to think about the study itself. The original research paper can be found on the British Medical Journal website.

Firstly, the most obvious point is perhaps that it is carried out by survey and therefore relies on the parent’s perspective of their child, and also assumes they have tracked screen time correctly and recorded it accurately. Although the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) given to the parents to complete is described as “a widely-used survey instrument with high validity and reliability,” I have carried out the questionnaire personally and feel the questions themselves are rather subjective and the tick box answers very restrictive. In addition, each parent’s perspective on what the terms themselves mean, how the questions and answers are interpreted and parent’s perception of the children themselves will inevitably vary greatly. For example, one question states is the child “obedient”. Define obedience. Is the child obedient in which situations? What factors does it depend on and is this relevant? And how to then answer accurately with the limited options of not true, somewhat true or certainly true? Even the mood of the parent at the time of completing the SDQ or events taken place just prior could change the answers. Without a more holistic picture of the child, the questionnaires can not be assumed to be at all accurate, in my opinion.

Secondly, the study sets out to look at direct links between amount of screen time and mental health, ignoring the potential indirect affects. “Links between screen time and mental health may be indirect, rather than direct, for example, via increased sedentary behaviour, sleeping difficulties and language development.” If mental health is indirectly affected this should be equally noted in the conclusion in order to give a clear and unbiased presentation of the results. The other thing noted in the research itself and I feel relevant personally, is that the study was only carried out to show the effects on children up to aged 7. These are not long term results, there is no point of reference later in childhood or even into adult life. I think it is important to consider possible delayed effects that might not show up until later in life.

Also, the types of games played and nature of programmes watched were not taken into account and this is perhaps far more relevant than the amount of screen time. “There was also no information on weekend use, or the content or context of early screen time. Other research has indicated the importance of content for aggression and attentional problems in young children. Screen time in the context of parental restrictions or discussion of content may moderate negative effects.” The study itself suggests further study in this area is needed. “The study highlights the need for more detailed data to explore risks of various forms of screen time, including exposure to screen violence.”

Gaming, negative affects, mental health, behaviour, SEND, parenting childhood, research, living life our way
Stock photo (image not my own)

In addition, studies should further examine the associated child and family characteristics which appear to account for most of the simple associations between screen exposure and psychosocial adjustment. What is appropriate for some is not appropriate for others, particularly in content.

However, the biggest point that the study itself mentions but that is not highlighted in reports of the findings, is the many factors that can affect how a child is effected by screen exposure. “For problem scores (conduct, hyperactivity/ inattention, emotional and peer relationship), detailed modelling (not shown) indicated that the set of maternal and family characteristics produced the greatest reduction in the effect of screen exposure; followed by adjustment for child characteristics. For prosocial scores, family functioning measures produced the greatest reduction in the effect of screen exposure.” This might seem obvious to many but I feel there can be a danger of oversimplifying the summary of results and not taking into account the other factors and, most importantly, the child themselves as an individual.

So do I think that there is a case for limiting screens? Yes and no. It depends entirely on the context. Limitations might be in time, or could be in content only. It might not be an imposed limitation necessarily, it could be mutually and respectfully agreed upon by the entire family. Sometimes the child might set their own limitations because they have decided for themselves that they are not comfortable with the content, or would simply rather do other things with their time. It might not be an arbitrary rule but rather stem from a very genuine and obvious need for it. The adults in the house may also limit their own screen time to meet the needs of the family. What works for one family may well be very different to another.

The fact is that everyone has different needs and I feel we need to be accepting and understanding of this in all aspects of life, screens are no different. Individuals are exactly that, individual, so the assumption that there is a right or wrong answer as to whether or not screens have any negative effects is, I feel, misguided. Families need to support their children in meeting their own needs rather than be guided by research one way or another. A million people can say they personally did or did not experience negative effects but if you feel differently and think it is causing any type of harm to yourself or someone you are responsible for, you are probably right.

In summary, according to the research paper “findings do not demonstrate that interventions to reduce screen exposure will improve psychosocial adjustment. Indeed, they suggest that interventions in respect of family and child characteristics, rather than a narrow focus on screen exposure, are more likely to improve outcomes.” It is not about reducing screen exposure or otherwise, it is about respecting individuals and how their needs vary.

The Beauty of Interest-Led Discussions

Today so far we have discussed the following, all entirely led by Squiggle (and it’s only lunchtime!)…

Odd and even numbers

Times tables (she specifically asked about counting in twos, threes, six, tens, elevens, hundreds and ten thousands). This also led to a discussion about how larger numbers are written.

Why people can’t fly and how gravity works. This led her to demonstrate and explain it to me herself in her own words while jumping around flapping her arms.

Why our cat is called a half Norwegian Forest cat, what we mean by ‘half’ and where the rest of the name in general comes from.

The weather forecast for today and how people predict the weather. This led to discussion over recent weather, climate and seasons.

How paper is made.

Cooking Eggs

Squiggle has never been keen on eating eggs before, but in conversation today, the topic came up about different ways to cook eggs and she seemed really enthusiastic to try this at home. She was very interested in helping to cook the eggs in various different ways. This occasion included scrambled egg, hard boiled, soft boiled and fried egg. Even better, she happily tasted them all too. She also had fun making an egg and red pepper sandwich, which she also ate.

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Exploring different ways of cooking and eating eggs.
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Making egg sandwiches.

A Typical Week in Home Education?

In reality there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ week for us, we are interest-led and we tend to go with the flow as we feel this suits our needs as a family. The freedom to do this is one of the many reasons we love home educating. I will share more of our personal educational philosophy sometime but that is really a separate subject so I will leave it for now. However, this post aims to give a flavour of the type of thing we might find ourselves doing and a rough gist of what our week might look like. So here is a brief summary of our week:

Saturday

In the morning Squiggle played outside in the garden with her dad. She also picked some blackberries then helped to clean and feed our rabbits. After this we decided to head to the seaside at Southend for the rest of the day.

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Playing on the beach
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Collecting seaweed
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Paddling in the sea

Sunday

We spent some the day at home then decided to pop to Milton Keynes shopping centre for a little while (where she particularly enjoyed the caravan show and studying the inside of a working clock)

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This is the model plane she made at home

Monday

We went to London Zoo for the day.

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We enjoyed seeing the star fishes and seahorses in the aquarium
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Iguana in the reptile house
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The gorilla striking a pose!
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Petting farm
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Squiggle spent a long time playing in the water fountains with an acorn. She had fun designing a science experiment to see which fountains could hold the acorn up in the water. She did lots of investigating how easily the acorn moved in the little stream as well.

Tuesday

We played at home for a while (self- directed learning) then we decided to go to Paradise Park for the rest of the day.

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She decided she wanted to play with some coins that had been left on the table so this led to learning to recognise and sort different coins. We also had a discussion on the value of things.
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Watching how the otters behave
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We enjoyed watching the white tiger take a bath

Wednesday

We had planned to go to a local park to meet up with some friends in the morning then we also went to Leighton Buzzard park in the afternoon.

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Fleetville park
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Counting the shapes then setting the dial to the correct number
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Developing her climbing skills and confidence
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These stepping stones wobble to make this more challenging.
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Balancing skills

Thursday

We stayed at home today so I produced a hidden parcel that had arrived recently, which she was very excited about. It was a zip wire for her hex bugs! This of course inspired her to play with these for sometime, including lots of exploration and discussion about how they work. Activities she later chose included playing Reading Eggs and Maths Seeds on the laptop.

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Hexbugs
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Maths seeds

Friday

Most of our day was spent at the scout hut for art group then ‘meet up and play’.

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Exploring clay at art group
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Doing scratch art