Children are “nearly being born with an iPad in their hand”, according to Health Minister Simon Harris, writes Joyce Fegan.
He was speaking about the lack of physical activity among young people and the amount of time they spend in front of screens instead.
“I know myself growing up, as one of our younger politicians, so it’s not that long ago, growing up we were much more active,” said Mr Harris.
“We were still going outside more. We were playing the typical games people play in their housing estates and on their greens and in their sports clubs and now we do see a situation where children are nearly being born with the iPad in their hand and more and more time is being spent looking at the screen.”
Mr Harris was speaking at the launch of a new five-year campaign by the HSE and Safefood aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of children through better nutritional choices and more activity.
“There are very simple things that we can all do as part of society to help get our children out in the air more, to help them exercise more, that will really stand to them and stand to society in terms of health and wellbeing,” said Mr Harris.
Child and adolescent psychotherapist Joanna Fortune said she agrees that children are leading more sedentary lifestyles, due to the rapid rise of technology.
She said that screens should ideally be avoided until between two and three years of age due to the developing brain.
“Children are living more sedentary lifestyles now, largely owing to how much screen time they have access to,” she said.
“Ideally, children should not have access to any screens under two to three years old as their developing brains struggle to process the stimulation of screens under this age.
“Beyond that, screen time should be significantly restricted to approximately 30 minutes a day until age seven.”
Ms Fortune explained that screens “sabotage” vital stages of play that children go through as they develop.
“There are natural developmental play stages that children experience under the age of seven and these stages are crucial to their social and emotional development and screens can sabotage those play stages.”
Ms Fortune said that playing outside is “really important” for children and suggested several ways in which parents can make it more appealing.
She said: “Go on a nature walk together and collect leaves to make leaf rubbings when you get home, or collect conkers to play with later or stones that you can wash and paint at home and gift to relatives as homemade paperweights.
“Design a treasure map with clues for children to follow and have them hunt for the treasure outside.”
Ms Fortune also stated that it is important parents are aware of their own screen behaviour as children mirror the actions of the adults around them. She suggested they attempt screen-free weekends.
This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.