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Priory Group joins The Times' mental health campaign

As part of The Times’ child mental health campaign, Time to Mind, Dr Paul Bester, Child Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, discussed how excessive screen time can be damaging to both parents and children.

Dr Bester commented: “It is very difficult for parents to set an example when they are constantly on their mobile phones, and children learn by copying behaviour. They then do the same. This leads to disconnected family relationships, little quality time together and children do not learn essential and subtle emotional cues and complex supportive social behaviour.

“We also certainly see children suffering from the stress of schoolwork. They get home from school, get on their computers or smartphones, and are deluged with information from the internet, and that raises the pressure they already feel. Their games and hobbies occur on the same media, and they spend too much time on screen.”

Real psychological and biological danger

“Online, children are exposed to much information, some very harmful, and - for example self-harming and pro-anorexia sites - have the potential to encourage children to be competitive about it.

“The excessive screen time has not only a psychological impact but also a biological impact on neurodevelopment. Depression has a genetic component as well as an environmental one and it is true that some children are more susceptible to depression than others, and it is believed that excessive exposure to screen time is contributing to depression rates and other symptoms of mental illness.

“Children come home, do their homework, play some computer games, spend time on social media – all on screen. Online media and social networking seem more alluring and children would rather be playing games online or on their phones than go on a family picnic or out for dinner at a local restaurant with their mums and dads. Parents try to respect adolescents’ privacy – which is necessary – but the problem is that children are getting phones younger and younger, and it is very difficult to change entrenched family behaviour.”

Dr Bester had concerns that excessive screen time is changing children’s behaviour – leading them to believe that, just like using a computer, life could be controlled and they could receive instant gratification.

“The paradox is of course that the internet and smartphones could be – and are – also used to enhance connectedness. People have short bursts of conversation whenever they like and are often in constant communication, but technology can also facilitate isolationist behaviour.”

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