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Technology is affecting their hearts and minds. But how about their bodies?

And you thought your child’s device use was giving you  a pain in the neck? Imagine what it’s doing to theirs.

From head to toe, technology is wreaking havoc on our children’s physical wellbeing.

Australians collectively check their phones 560 million times a day, according to a 2017 Deloitte survey. That’s an average of 35 times a day.  

Younger users, needless to say, are decidedly above average. Recent Pew Research showed nearly half of 13- to 17-year-olds are online “almost constantly.” And their younger brothers and sisters are nipping at their heels.

It’s turning out the wear-and-tear on everything from their vision to their spinal health is pretty constant too, according to a raft of recent research. And the long-term impact on quality of life could be devastating, specialists warn.

Where there’s excessive screen-time, there’s also poor flexibility, poor posture, inadequate core strength and repetitive strain injury - even among the fittest young people. In many cases it’s not devices per se that are causing the problems. It’s the outdoor activities that device-use is displacing - old-school stuff like walking, running, skipping, jumping and horsing around.

At Perth’s Wesley College, for example, a new Long-Term Athletic Development Program has been developed expressly to address the double whammy of screen- and couch-time on students’ skeletal, muscular and neural systems.

wesley graphic

(Source: Wesley College)  "Unless parents and schools respond appropriately, the consequences will be that our young people will experience greater rates of painful injury and poorer long-term quality of life."

If it’s true that, as health professionals have been warning for over a decade, “sitting is the new smoking” - then it’s official: our kids’ wellbeing is seriously at risk. And among today’s teenagers, significant evidence of their digital lives is already worryingly apparent - and is prompting action by experts in human movement and physiology.

 

Think about it… across Australia the average child spends about five hours a day at their school in a one-size-fits-all chair, often on computers. Then after school, children stand hunched over their phones waiting for their parents to pick them up. They get home, dump their heavy school bag and slump into the couch ready for some down time, watching TV or gaming. What is the impact? Moreover, what can we do about it?  Researcher Linda Stade, Wesley College 


Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at some of the most common - and most serious - screen-related health impacts, from myopia to short hamstrings. Today’s topic: Text neck.

Text neck

It’s not just a buzzword - it’s a thing.

A repetitive strain injury cause by continually holding the head forward and looking down at a smartphone screen, text neck causes tension in the neck and shoulders, leading to pain, spasms, nerve pain and chronic headaches. It has also been linked to the develpment of early arthritis in the neck.

That’s a lot of trouble from one little smartphone screen. So how does it happen?

“Looking down promotes a forward head posture. For every inch forward you hold your head, the weight carried down through the spine increases by 10 pounds” says physical therapist Dr. Karena Wu.  That’s about the heft of a bowling ball. The pressure this puts on the front of the neck can cause damage to intervertebral discs. Further down the spinal track, text neck also strains the back of the neck, and throws the gluteal muscles are in a constant state of contraction.

Leading NSW chiropractor Dr. James Carter maintains that text neck can also produce emotional and behavioural changes, as the physical stress affects the release of feel-good hormones.

Resting your chin on your chest to look at your phone stretches the spinal cord and brain stem. This can affect respiration, heart rate and blood pressure. It can also mean that happy hormones, such as endorphins and serotonin are not released, meaning people can wake up anxious.

Dr. James Carter, chiropractor


What parents can do

Experts recommend nagging. Seriously, they do.

  • Remind kids about posture when they are looking at phones and sitting in front of computers.
  • Encourage them to hold their phones at eye level - and to position other devices so the head is not bend forward.
  • Insist that they take frequent breaks from device use every 20 or 30 minutes. Just getting up and walking from one room to the next and back again can help.
  • Seek professional advice on stretching and core body strength exercises that are appropriate to your child’s age and stage of development.
  • Model good screen hygiene yourself, and make sure the other adults in your household do too.
  • Finally - and this above all, say experts - limit screen-time.


Family Zone alone won’t cure text neck. But as part of a holistic strategy, it’s helping more than 350,000 families grow a healthy, balanced digital generation. To learn more, have a wander around our website - and start your free trial today.

Topics: Screen time, smartphone, text neck

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