I recently had an interesting conversation with a dental hygienist about some of the observations she’d made with young patients in her dental office. These sorts of talks happen often and in various places, once someone learns that I am a speaker and advocate for Video Gaming Addiction awareness. Everyone, it seems has a story to tell around their experience with children and their obsession with digital screens.
What this hygienist marvels at is the amount of excessive time that children spend on their cell phones, even during their dental appointments, as well as their confessions of use of their gaming devices at home.
As a professional working with the young, one needs to establish a bit of a relationship, as well as trust, with a patient, especially when dealing with their dental hygiene. A child needs to feel a sense of assurance and comfort before they are going to willingly allow one to stick sharp instruments into their mouth.
The conversation will often include the staff member taking an interest in what the patient enjoys doing outside of their appointment time. What grade are you in at school? Are you playing a sport? Do you enjoy art, singing, or playing a musical instrument?
And what is being discovered lately is that a very large percentage of these children are only scrolling through social media and/or playing video games. They have no other outside activities, and they don’t go anywhere without their phones. This leaves little else to talk about. These young patients are also seemingly thin and pale, as though they have little time to eat and haven’t left the house in months. The overall feeling of the hygienist and her co-workers is that children are lacking diversity in their lives today. Many aren’t attached to a sports team, a social club, or an arts program and they hardly spend any time playing outdoors. And even more surprising, often boys say that they never listen to music, unless they have to, other than video gaming music.
During our chat, the hygienist mentioned having a conversation with a young patient who told her he only plays video games, nothing else. She found this so discouraging that she embarked on making a deal with him. She suggested that he get outside to take his family dog for a walks and at his next appointment she would award him a small gift. At his next visit, he reported that he tried to walk his dog but fell down during the outing, so turned and went home. He then stated that this was evidence enough to him that being outdoors was not good for him. Her reply: “This was evidence that he needed to get outside even more!!” She felt that more exercise would prevent falling from occurring. I agree.
Dentist offices today offer free wi-fi for those in the waiting room. But young patients are still checking their phones during their time in the dental chair. The average time of an appointment is about thirty minutes. That’s not a long time to be disconnected from a phone. Reportedly, children are checking their phones while the dental assistant leaves the room to put away the x-ray bib/apron, views the x-ray results, or steps away for a supply or tool.
During one appointment, this same hygienist noticed that in the time it took her to step out of the room to press the button for the x-ray machine and step back in, her young patient’s phone pinged with twelve to fifteen notifications. She commented her surprise about this to him, and he replied, “Hey, that’s grade seven.” This is normal for a twelve year old!!
But this is not what surprises the dental staff the most. Their greatest concern comes during the time they are updating medical history for their patients. They are astounded by the number of children who are taking anti-anxiety medications. Is it coincidence or is there a correlation between the number of hours spent on digital devices and the lack of outdoor activity, exercise, and diversity in these children’s lives?
Did you know that 85% of school-aged children do not meet the pediatric guidelines for screen time and only 23% of students are meeting the recommended daily physical guidelines for moderate to vigorous exercise? This is increasing health issues, including mental health, as well as having a detrimental effect on school performance.
Cell phones, tablets, and gaming devices are not going away. They are here to stay, and for this newest generation technology is a big part of their lives. They take for granted that they have internet access. They don’t remember a time when it didn’t exist. But for those of us who do remember, we can offer many healthy options that are tech-free and provide much more diversity for our children.
Parents, vary your child’s exposure to social activities and encourage outdoor play.
Gaming devices, cell phones, and tablets are not a replacement for the many clubs, sports, outdoor and arts programs your child could be exploring and enjoying.
The Pediatric guidelines for screen use are as follows:
0-2 years of age – absolutely no screen time
2-4 years of age – less than one hour daily
5-17 years of age – no more than two hours daily
The Pediatric Guideline for physical movement is as follows:
60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily