Digital devices proliferate throughout the lives of many, if not most, children, tweens, teenagers and young adults. The data for Australia shows:

• 95% of 8 to 11 year olds had accessed the internet ‘in the last four weeks’.
• 37% of 8 to 9 year olds and 51% of 10 to 11 year olds have accessed the internet via a handheld mobile device.
• Mobile phone ‘ownership’ increases significantly with age with 11% of 8 to 9 year olds having their own mobile phone, increasing to 67% of 12 to 13 year olds.
• 45% of 8 to 11 year olds use social networking sites.

In determining what is best for young people in using digital devices, it is wise to keep in mind both content and context.

The impact on the development of our very young people, as yet, is not well-documented or researched. There are some indicators and well-known factors that can be taken into account by the adults in the lives of very young people, especially parents.

There are many research studies that indicate that children under the age of 30 months learn best through face to face interactions and cannot learn from TV. As the body of research for digital devices is limited, the potential educational benefits for very young children is questionable and care should be exercised by parents.

For pre-school children, while digital devices can assist in learning to read and in vocabulary development, the use of these devices to distract children during mundane tasks may be detrimental to the development of their own skills in self-regulation. It is well-known through studies that TV decreases the amount of time children spend on developing language and social skills in direct human to human interaction. Digital devices similarly replace time that could be spent in this manner.

Games played on digital devices may assist in problem-solving skill development but they may delay the development of skills in reading facial expression and body language cues; the development of empathy and social problem-solving typically learned through unstructured play and through interaction with peers. They can lead to lower levels of fitness through a lack of movement; a detrimental effect on the development of gross motor skills such as running, throwing and catching; and three dimensional spatial awareness skills such as balance.

With older children (tweens), teenagers and young adults we tend to focus on the negative content that young people come across using digital devices. These risks are real and we all need to keep them in mind.

A Spanish study in 2010/11 found that increasingly obsessive use of computers whether online or not had a correlation with increasingly poor school grades. But not using a computer at all, also had a link to poor grades.

There are five key areas to keep in balance in using digital devices with tweens, teenagers and young adults. These provide the context to sensible use of digital devices and they are:
• Digital usage
• Sleep
• Exercise
• Nutrition
• Time management

It is the regulation of these five areas that reduces anxiety, and keeps the life of a student in a sensible balance.

In digital usage, ‘content is king’! It is wise to monitor and regulate content that is accessed by young people and the context in which it is accessed. To play video games in moderation might be reasonable. When they are played and what the time might otherwise be used for are key questions.

Digital devices can interfere with sleep and should not be in bedrooms. Students in bed by 10 pm exhibit lower levels of depression and better coping mechanisms. As 10 pm approaches, step down the use of digital devices from interactive to passive use. It is best not to use digital devices an hour before sleep; the brain needs time to relax.

Sleep is critical to development. While much brain development has occurred by the age of 5, the prefrontal cortex continues to develop into the twenties. Neural connections critical to intelligence, self-awareness and performance are stimulated in school and other contexts. They are hard-wired in the brain in the latter stages of REM sleep. Thus to be efficient at learning, a good night’s sleep is vital.

Deprivation of REM sleep means new knowledge and skills are not ‘processed’ and ‘wired’ in the brain. Sleep deprivation also affects mood and can lead to mental health issues, apathy and irritability. Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep per night, more than most adults.

Nutrition is also important. Tired people tend to eat more and look for a ‘sugar fix’. Higher blood sugar levels can negatively influence sleep patterns. Alcohol can assist with sleep onset but interferes with REM sleep where the ‘learning’ of the day is processed. It is wise to use ‘sports drinks’ sparingly. They can be often quite high in both sugar and caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and should be avoided after lunch time, especially if sleep patterns are problematic.

People who under eat are also at risk of not optimising their potential. Low iron levels create fatigue and poor concentration, which means effective study takes longer. A poor diet results in the loss of essential minerals and vitamins necessary for a strong immune system, memory and physical and mental health.

Exercise and doing other things we love such as making music, art, hobbies etc. are good for us. They produce serotonin which helps to keep us calm. Moderate exercise assists the immune system and boosts brain power through the added circulation of oxygen and nutrients. ‘Feel good’ music assists our state of mind through the release of the natural ‘feel good’ chemical dopamine. When stressed and anxious, the use of slower music can assist in the production of alpha brain waves and the need to concentrate can be assisted by the production of beta brain waves through music with a more upbeat tempo.

Overall, planning the use of time is critical to the success of senior students. Good planning and the discipline of sticking to the plan helps manage anxiety. Sometimes it is necessary for parents and teachers to assist younger people to maintain a sensible balance in their lives and assist with the setting of goals and priorities. The use of a weekly planner is sensible. In order to maximise success in senior secondary education, serious amounts of time must be set aside for study, note-taking, assignments, homework and revision. It is also important to build in times for exercise, relaxation and fun. These times help keep life in balance but complete the study before the fun!

Studying in a bedroom is often not the best place. Bedrooms are places of sleep and quiet times. If possible, study in a quiet place but more central in the home, where assistance can be requested and supervision can be maintained. The same applies to the use of video games and other digital devices. The best place for them is where there is some supervision and monitoring of use. This is not in a bedroom.

While we talk a great deal about digital risks and challenges or the demands made upon young people, there are also many benefits. It’s an exciting time to be growing up, with so many ways in which children can connect and be creative. Balance, care and some forethought from the adults, especially parents in the lives of children is critical.

Boston University Medical Center: Mobile and interactive media use by young children: The good, the bad and the unknown. <a href=””></a> Accessed 8 March 2015

Clews, Gaylene & Shaw, Allan. Study Skills 2013. Unpublished DVD.
Geggel, Laura: For Teens, Falling Asleep Gets Harder with More Screen Time. Accessed 8 March 2015

KidsMatter: Kids Online: The Statistics. Accessed 8 March 2015

Rettner, Rachael. Technology Use Before Bed Linked with Increased Stress. Accessed 8 March 2015.

Shridevi: Generation Next Blog: How to Know if Teens Are Getting It Wrong Online. Accessed 8 March 2015

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona: Study analyzes Internet, mobile and video game effects on young users. Accsessed 8 March 2015