9 October 2012
It will come as no surprise to most of us to hear that the prolonged and repeated watching of television is not good for our children's physical health.
What may not have been apparent are the sinister changes in brain chemistry that take place when a child watches more than they should.
Dr Aric Sigman, a leading psychologist writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, has highlighted some of the direct links between hours spent infront of a screen, any screen - computers, playstations, tablets and mobile phones are all to blame - and incidences of depression and screen addiction.
The chemical dopamine, he says, is produced in response to 'screen novelty'.
Too much dopamine and the body becomes addicted.
Addictions lead to a reduction in attention span and the brain's ability to concentrate which in turn has an inevitable impact on a child's ability to learn.
So how do we do something about this?
Children's attention is attracted by loud and fast moving activity - many TV programmes and video games capitalise on this. However this does not help their processing ability and just bombards their senses with a wide range of confusing external stimuli.
Spending time with children observing one thing, over time and with little interruption will slowly begin to return their processing to normal. This is the processing which leads to learning outcomes. This is also the processing that deepens appreciation, increases empathy, engenders thoughtful consideration and makes room for creativity.
There is a temptation to fill every learning moment with high impact bite sized pieces of information all stacked on top of each other designed to attract and engage.
Sometimes we seem to make our lesson plans like the aisles in well known toy shops, piled high with brightly coloured, plastic treats and rewards, often simulating real life not reflecting it.
The most important component of any learning experience is not the tool but the teacher and the time they spend embedding, encouraging and prompting.
Sitting a child infront of a screen is never going to replace this - and now we know that it will do more damage that perhaps we fully appreciated.