The World Health Organisation has warned that the increased use of technology by children is leading to increased rates of obesity. The Report: Adolescent Obesity and Related Behaviours, looked at the prevalence of obesity among adolescents between the years 2002 and 2014. Almost two thirds of children were found to be spending more than 2 hours a day playing games on smartphones, tablets and computers. Obviously these activities are predominantly sedentary in nature and have a knock on effect on levels of exercise and ultimately, weight gain. We know from our 2016 survey of 4,400 primary school children in Ireland that 34% of them spend more than 2 hours screen time per day during weekdays. This figure rises to 54% spending more than 2 hours screen time per day at weekends. So, what can you do to help promote a healthy balance for your child in their use of technology and help them to avoid developing obesity and related long term health conditions?

At Zeeko we have pioneered the 5 to 1 rule in primary schools throughout the Country, which essentially promotes that for every 5 hours doing non-internet/ technology activities such as playing football or reading a child can earn 1 hour using internet enabled devices and technology. It is really about promoting a healthy balance between time spent  using technology and time spent on ‘real world’ activities including, sleep, physical activity, socialising with friends and other non-internet and technology activities.

Role modelling is also important when it comes to promoting a healthy balance and setting boundaries on the use of technology by children. If your child sees you constantly using devices, phones, iPads and/or iPods they are going to see that as normal and think that it is acceptable for them to use devices in the same way. So, try where possible to use your own devices less, encourage a reduction in screentime through being a good role model, particularly in the lead up to your child’s bedtime. The blue light omitted by many devices affects the melatonin levels in the brain and can significantly affect deep sleep and concentration the following day. This goes for adults and children alike. Encourage the whole family to have time each week where you engage in an activity together that does not involve technology and prioritises movement and aerobic activity. This could be an activity as a family or within your community too.

Another way of ensuring that everyone feels involved in how technology is used and managed in your home is to develop a ‘Family Contract’. This contract can detail things like how much screentime is allowed during the week, how long over a weekend technology is allowed to be used. It can also act as a reminder of what your child should do if they encounter something upsetting when they are online. This contract should be signed by both the adults and the children in your home. The central involvement and commitment of adults in agreeing and adhering to the rules outlined in the contract, really provides a great encouragement to children to adapt their behaviours in relation to their use of technology.

Joe Kenny Founder and CEO of Zeeko says, “The internet and the use of  technology is an integral part of young people’s academic,  and personal lives with many benefits such as enhanced self-esteem, expression of identity, enhancement of interpersonal relationships and social interactions among others. We need to invest in developing positive behaviours among primary school children in order alleviate the impact of excessive internet and technology use among children and teenagers. We need to empower primary school children through education to strike a healthy balance between the time spent using the internet and technology and non-internet activities.”