The Great Screen Time Debate : How Much Damage is Really Caused? 

* Full year spent in front of screens by age 7

* Internet creates ‘Butterfly mentality’

* Screen time for kids has damaging effect in class

* Extended screen time leads to negativity

* Children develop anxiety and ‘FOBO’

* Committed Reading replaced with skimming

* Internet cause for higher dopamine levels

With a generation that is almost completely digital and screen time being a huge debate among parents, teachers and experts, research has now shown exactly how damaging too much screen time can have. And it’s rather scary.

Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman states that, by the time they are seven years old, most children born today will have spent the equivalent of a full year glued to screens, whilst the average ten-year-old has access to up to five screens at home.(1)

“By it’s very nature, the internet provokes what we call a ‘Butterfly mentality’; where the brain flits from thing to thing without having to actually focus for very long,” says Martina Barrett, Co-Founder of VAKS, the Hertfordshire-based Tuition company that prides itself on bringing educational support back to real people and real learning. “When children are constantly on iPads and smartphones, it’s no surprise they find it increasingly difficult to sit in a classroom and concentrate for up to an hour at a time. We are finding that children become tired quicker, their engagement with printed texts is not as great and even their motor skills are suffering from the constant use of touch screens as opposed to toys and tools that require manual manipulation.”

In response to this, VAKS has a strict No-Screen policy in all their centres – children are taught to focus on printed text, white boards and their own books. There is a heavy emphasis placed on handwriting practice, clean and formatted presentation in books and class discussion about methods and ideas, all aimed at giving young people the skills needed to interact and be effective during face-to-face interaction.

However, it’s not just children’s ability to focus that is being impacted. Research from the BBC shows that British teenagers are clocking up to six hours of screen time a day with the negative impacts starting after two hours’ viewing time. (2)

“From what we have seen, there is an unprecedented level of anxiety present in young children and teenagers today, that we believe stems from the amount of internet they use,” says Jacqui Querns, VAKS Co-Founder.

Experts in both social psychology and technological development have spoken about the phenomenon of FOBO (Fear of Being Offline) and its direct correlation with anxiety symptoms; where sufferers are compelled to constantly check their devices in order to reassure themselves that they have not somehow missed out on something. (3)

“Getting teenagers and young people off their devices is one of our main struggles. Many find it hard to concentrate for their hour-long session due to being preoccupied about their phones and if a notification goes off accidently – the whole class is derailed,” says VAKS English teacher, Louise Davidson. “The irony is that, due to online formats, children are technically reading more often these days but it’s not Committed Reading, where they sit down and properly focus on a book. They’re skimming short blocks of text and most of their information is given in the form of videos, Vines and games.”

So what is it about our devices and screens that is so compelling? Experts believe that the reason could be chemical. According to research, our reduced attention spans could be due to the effects of dopamine released in our brains as we browse the internet.

Dopamine is the chemical responsible for transmitting signals in the brain and is activated when something good happens unexpectedly. Usually linked with rewards and addictive behaviour, it is no surprise that browsing the internet often leads to a spike in our dopamine levels and therefore, spurs us on to seek another immediate high. (4)

“Constant exposure to screens is not just affecting children’s ability to learn, it is affecting their ability to process information and apply it in a meaningful way,” says Martina. “Technology is definitely the forefront of the modern world but there are still many events that require young people to focus and work methodically – whether that’s in an exam, when writing a personal statement or setting up a science experiment.”

Possibly this is why some of the Digital world’s top flyers are taking a more guarded approach when it comes to exposing their own children to technology. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs revealed in an interview in 2011 that he was a “low-tech parent” who tried to limit the amount of technology his children used at home (5) whilst Chris Anderson, the chief executive of 3D Robotics, purposefully limits his children’s exposure to devices because, “we have seen the dangers of technology first-hand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”(6)

However, many have said that, when it comes to technology, the keywords are moderation and communication. O2’s CEO Ronan Dunne has said that, “when [my daughter] was growing up, I used to talk to her regularly about what she was doing online…the digital world can be brilliant, exciting and inspirational but it’s important to encourage offline learning and activities too.”(7)

“Our recommendation would always be to limit the amount of time children spend on screens, especially before bed or after school,” says Jacqui. “In today’s world, our devices have become an immediate source of entertainment rather than tools to be used when needed. Children need to learn that their iPad is no substitute for their own brain!”

For more information on VAKS Tuition visit or call 0800 404 8172 to speak to a member of the team.



2 Ibid

3 What Obsessive Compulsive Phone Checking…, Barbara McMahon, The Times, Saturday July 18th 2015



6 Ibid


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