Our little life is rounded with a sleep

5th May 2006 at 01:00
With the testing season upon us once more, a TES poll reveals that many children are losing sleep worrying about schoolwork or exams (page 1). At the same time, kids of all ages are watching TV in bed, switching on their personal DVD, playing computer games or surfing the internet before they turn out the light.

What are we to make of all this? It is easy to fly into a moral panic about the way our children live now. Ever since the introduction of "high stakes"

testing and school league tables in the early Nineties`, teachers have been rightly anxious about their harmful effect on children. Pupils in this country are now among the most scrutinised on the planet, and undoubtedly under greater pressure to achieve than previous generations. This in itself, is bad enough. But today's children have many more reasons to stay awake at night than their parents did. On average, children who are allowed to watch TV or a movie in bed at night get half an hour less sleep. For some teenagers, particularly those plugged into a games console, it is far worse.

So we should not be surprised when children turn up to school tired or fretful and sometimes unwilling to learn. Sensible teachers already try to work with parents to overcome this problem, sometimes with mixed results.

The answer is not to nanny parents by setting bedtimes; we have enough targets already. Nor should we worry too much about the influence of new technologies. Most teenagers seem more than capable of adapting to a digital multi-task world. It is the rest of us who, all too often, struggle to keep up.

Perhaps more important is the general impact of new media on children's brains and the way they learn. Susan Greenfield (Platform, page 21) is right when she speaks of the need to ensure that 21st-century technology is used to fit the needs of children, especially when applied to the classroom. Too often, in these high-stakes times, it is the other way round.

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