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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 25-Jul-16 15:34:14

Guest post: "It's time we changed the conversation about screen time"

We need to move away from the idea that children’s use of technology is invariably problematic, say Alicia Blum-Ross and Sonia Livingstone

Alicia Blum-Ross and Sonia Livingstone

Parenting for a Digital Future, LSE

Posted on: Mon 25-Jul-16 15:34:14

(33 comments )

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"Despite the opportunities presented by the digital world, most advice tells parents to restrict children's screen time."

The advice parents are given about screen time is out of date and conflicting. Two messages dominate. The first warns of the dangers that come from screens: obesity, paedophilia, bullying. The second is driven by marketing. The onslaught of new games, toys and apps makes parents fear that their children will be left behind or left out if they fail to buy the latest gadgets.

Parents are made to feel that they must invest in technology to help their children learn and make friends, yet they are also being told that using this technology puts their children at risk.

As part of our research for the LSE's Parenting for a Digital Future project, we interviewed over 65 families. Time and again, parents described themselves as 'lazy' for letting their children have access to screens, and many are concerned about their use of media. But it's time we changed the conversation about children and technology. An afternoon on the tablet may be spent doing schoolwork, playing, relaxing, creating, or talking with friends and family. We need to move away from the idea that time spent looking at a screen is necessarily time wasted.

This month we released a policy brief about 'screen time'. We argued that rather than worrying about 'time' parents should focus on the context of screen use (where, how and why) the content (what they are watching, playing, reading) and connections (who they are relating to).

At the moment, advice for parents overwhelmingly focuses on risk. Only a very small proportion of advice presents parents with a positive vision of how digital media can benefit children and families. Media lets children connect with friends, learn, create, and develop skills valuable in education and the workplace. But when parents restrict online behaviour because they are trying to avoid risk, children are likely to miss out on online opportunities.

Media lets children connect with friends, learn, create, and develop skills valuable in education and the workplace. But when parents restrict online behaviour because they are trying to avoid risk, children are likely to miss out on online opportunities.


There are, of course, downsides to time spent online, but it is only through exposure to some degree of risk that we learn coping strategies, and build up resilience. Risks and opportunities for both parents and children go hand in hand. The more children use the internet, the more digital skills they gain and the more they can benefit from what’s available online - but the more risks they encounter. In short, the more, the more.

Despite the many opportunities presented by the digital world, most of the ‘screen time’ advice for parents tells them they should restrict and monitor children’s media use. Yet the evidence shows that technical filters, time limits and spying on your kids (without also talking openly) neither keep kids safe nor helps parents and children connect and learn together. We need to move beyond the idea of parent solely as teacher and protector – often, we can learn as much from our children as they can from us.

Rather than assuming that all of children’s media use is invariably problematic, it’s time to consider that what we and our children want from technology is not so different: a place to experiment, create, learn, work, share, play or veg out. Rather than panicking, ask yourself whether using digital media helps or prevents your child from:

- Eating and sleeping enough
- Being physically healthy
- Connecting socially with friends and family
- Engaging in school
- Enjoying and pursuing hobbies and interests

If you find that digital media are a problem in one area, focus on that, but don’t feel that you need to police everything equally. Parents need to connect between their own digital practices and those of their children, and policy-makers need to better support parents to help their children access the opportunities – not just avoid the risks – of the digital age.

If you’re interested in more balanced resources about screen time check out Common Sense Media and Parent Zone – along with lots more listed on the Parenting for a Digital Future blog.

By Alicia Blum-Ross and Sonia Livingstone

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WipsGlitter Mon 25-Jul-16 17:09:29

Really interesting. Technology is here to stay so we need to adapt our approach to how our kids relate a a use it.

BeenThereDoneThatForgotten Mon 25-Jul-16 18:10:47

My DD has a smartphone and a laptop and seems to be an absolute wizz. The weekends will find her playing Minecraft with a headset and Skype etc etc We are currently on holiday and she loves being able to check in with her friends.
I police it lightly. The rules are:

a) you never make online friends with people you don't actually know in RL
b) you never post anything online ever that you wouldn't be happy for your grandma to see as it can never be taken back.
c) your privacy settings are at the highest level
d) if anything upsets you or concerns you in anyway, you need to tell us (this actually led to one "friend" being blocked.
She is learning about coding and 3D printing and I want to encourage this. But we also get out for walks/bike rides/swimming etc

Playduh Mon 25-Jul-16 18:19:06

This post makes me feel much better!

trilbydoll Mon 25-Jul-16 19:58:41

DD1 is only 3yo but she's like some poster child for the anti screen time police. 30 minutes on the iPad leads to tantrums and nightmare bedtimes. She also loses interest in any other toys. So on that list, screen time does prevent a few of them! It will be interesting to see if it improves as she gets older.

doing Mon 25-Jul-16 20:30:16

I have no issue with screen time as long as it doesn't lead to epic tantrums when screens are taken away. DD is 3 and as she can't read, I see it as similar down time to reading a book.

As long as she understands at some point it will be put away and we will do something else, I'm happy. Any sign of a tantrum when it goes away and it will be more limited until she weans herself off.

I have a friend with two children who has used screens a lot as comforters. They are now completely addicted and screens now cause more arguments that they solve in her house. If it came to that for mine I would throw them away.

voddiekeepsmesane Mon 25-Jul-16 21:12:25

DP and I met online 15 years ago when it was still thought of as weird to met online. We are both very much into "screens" and always have been. DS (12 years old) has been brought up on screens but we also geocache, get out to parks to kick a ball etc love days out to London, Santapod ( car loving DS) and generally outdoors days out (live on the edge of Beds ,Bucks and Herts so lots of places to go ) We have always had o screen time and because DS has always known this he has very rarely tantrumed about coming off and if he did the consequences occurred. Screens are a part of our lives but ONLY a part as long as they do not dominant then all is well IMO

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Mon 25-Jul-16 21:59:59

I am fully aware of the benefits, but I still think restricting it is important. For instance, not at bedtime or meals!

TheGirlOnTheLanding Mon 25-Jul-16 22:02:35

Really interesting, and pleased to see the recognition if the conflicting messages aimed at parents. We've relaxed screen time rules very much over the holidays, and we've been surprised that behaviour hasn't deteriorated at all. Both DC still do read books, draw, do crafts, spend time outside, exercise, etc (admittedly, the last two only when strongly suggested by a parent - or by a friend calling round) so time on Minecraft or Lego Harry Potter is part of a mix of activities, and is both social and creative, albeit in a different way.

Mner Mon 25-Jul-16 23:02:26

An interesting slant on it all. I certainly see the benefits of the educational and relaxation side for DS (4y). As well as it being the only thing to get us all through long journeys!

We always tell him "last minute" before we ask him to pack something like that away. It's not always an actual minute but it's a warning that it is coming to an end.

BaconAndAvocado Mon 25-Jul-16 23:07:34

This is an extremely heartening thread, particularly at the beginning of,the school holidays.

DS2 is the child most interested in screens.

I worry a lot,about screen time but having read this thread and reflecting on all,the other things we do,I think I need to relax a bit more!

How he uses screens at the moment:
Creating minecraft structures
Pokemon Go!
Finding cartoon images, e.g. The Simpsons, then drawing them with a pencil and paper
Printing off pictures to create a collage.

PickAChew Mon 25-Jul-16 23:09:43

This is definitely quite refreshing.

AlcoholicsUnanimous Mon 25-Jul-16 23:18:21

Whilst there can be some benefits to screen time for children aged 2 and older, it's worth remembering that children under 2 do not learn from screens, no matter what the content.

LottieDoubtie Mon 25-Jul-16 23:32:41

Er? Source please

Bubbinsmakesthree Mon 25-Jul-16 23:41:58

alcoholics I know some recommend zero screen use for under 2s, but I've never heard that they don't learn from screens. I've met enough 18 month olds who know exactly who Pepia Pig is to know that must be rubbish!

LiveLifeWithPassion Tue 26-Jul-16 00:03:58

It's the addiction to and dependency on screens that's a problem.

mnistooaddictive Tue 26-Jul-16 02:04:02

This shows a contact mete la k of understanding of the changes that happen in the brain after repeated exposure to computer games. As the parent of a child with ADHD I know for myself that even 30 mins time on a tablet means oppositional behaviour for the rest of the day.

AlcoholicsUnanimous Tue 26-Jul-16 05:44:04

pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/5/1040

TheVeryHungryDieter Tue 26-Jul-16 06:15:45

That article was published before the rise of tablet computing. The iPad first came out in mid 2010; but interactive screens are definitely more educational than passive watching which is what your article deals with.

It's five years old; that's a long time ago in the history of portable computing.

DangerQuakeRhinoSnake Tue 26-Jul-16 06:39:27

The trouble is there are many adults who cannot regulate their screen time to be socially acceptable so I can't see how children can be expected to.

throwingpebbles Tue 26-Jul-16 08:24:29

alcoholics I agree with strictly limiting screen time for tinies but my octonauts obsessed 20 month old knew an astonishing amount about marine biology!! Once you've seen a tiny toddler explain what symbiosis is, or accurately point out a zebra shark (hint, it's not stripy) then you will realise that they do learn. (I was pretty ferocious about my rule of max 30 minutes a day tho, but as a single mum that gave me time to shower and dress!)

throwingpebbles Tue 26-Jul-16 08:26:00

Totally agree with this though: The trouble is there are many adults who cannot regulate their screen time to be socially acceptable so I can't see how children can be expected to

guiltily puts phone down and starts getting dressed

OkLumberjack Tue 26-Jul-16 08:58:44

That's a very reassuring post.

My dcs are 11 and 9. I've never really restricted screen time. They both have iPads but my 11yr old has chosen not to use her phone too much. Her friends are all on social media and have their phones with them 24/7. She's not interested in this at all (although I have told her she can change her mind at any point). She's still managed to have a great school experience and been popular with friends but we've managed to completely avoid any friendship issues/problems.

My dd is very mature and tends to watch BBC iplayer (lots of bbc3). She tells me about good dramas that are on. We watch together sometimes. This has led to all kinds of discussions from politics, history to sex. She also listens to music via YouTube.

My dd watches people building Lego on YouTube then goes and builds his own. He also watches you tubers Rhett and Link (which I've watched) who are extremely inventive with experiments and original songs.

When I was growing up tv (the only screens we had) were seen as a positive thing that led to family discussion. I've tended to do the same with my dcs.

Neither of them have their own email accounts yet so everything goes through me and they can't sign up for things without me knowing. Sometimes I feel a bit 'behind' as neither of them have ever tried coding but dd will hopefully try in secondary school in the Autumn.

Forgetmenotblue Tue 26-Jul-16 09:01:54

When I was young my Nan thought I shouldn't read books for more than 20 minutes a day, for all the same reasons that people now think that screens should be limited (not being active, bad for your eyes, addictive, being indoors rather than outside etc). Books are the love of my life and I've learnt loads.

That's why I'm laid back about screen TIME (not at all laid back about content, who they are talking to, and what they are posting). If you are strict about the time aspect but not the other stuff, it's no use. If you are laid back about the time aspect but police the other stuff, then you can have the benefits but mitigate the risks.

Paintedhandprints Tue 26-Jul-16 11:09:51

Ds(2yo) has supplemented his learning of colours, shapes, numbers and letters with videos and games on the tablet. I asked a pediatric ophthalmologist if we should stop him using screens and he said it would actually be fine and exercises his eyes.
However, we do other activities, go for long hikes, etc.
Everything in moderation.

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