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Second screens having 'huge knock-on effect' on child health

Friday, November 28th 2014 by Dean Reilly

The growing use of second screen technologies by children can negatively impact on their health, development and academic performance, an expert in sleep research has said.

Vicki Dawson, founder of The Children's Sleep Charity, told Cable.co.uk: “We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from parents of teens regarding sleep issues and many of these are impacted on by the use of technology.

“There is research that shows that screen activities in the hour leading up to bedtime can interfere with melatonin production. We need melatonin to feel sleepy at night and many teens find that it is difficult to fall asleep.”

'Second screen' refers to the use of additional devices such as smartphones or tablets, alongside a primary screen such as a television.

Applications of second screen technology include voting via mobile apps during live TV broadcasts, interacting with others on social media who are viewing the same content, or accessing additional material while watching a DVD or Blu-Ray movie at home.

Mrs Dawson, who qualified as a teacher in 1998 and has trained with Sleep Scotland and the Southampton Sleep Service, highlighted that teens in particular tend to release melatonin later in the evening.

As a consequence, they aren't as likely to feel tired in the evening but want to sleep in during the morning.

Speaking following the publication of the Ofcom Digital Day: Children’s Diary report, which found that 11 to 15 year olds squeeze in nine and a half hours of media consumption into a seven hour period, Mrs Dawson warned: “Unfortunately school times for teens tend to be getting earlier so we have a nation of tired teenagers who therefore cannot meet their full potential in school.”

She told us there are a diverse range of potential consequences from children not getting enough sleep, including increased risk of mental health issues, heightened anxiety, poor concentration, weight issues, hormone and growth problems.

Mrs Dawson added: “Unfortunately we now live in a 24/7 society where teens have easy access to social media, mobile phones, the internet etc. This is impacting negatively on their sleep which can have huge knock on effects. We don't educate children about the importance of sleep.”

Children aged between six and 11 spend less time on media and communications each day than their teenage peers, and also undertake less media multi-tasking.

Both age groups, however, showed greater use of games consoles in the evening period.

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