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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The advice parents are given about screen time is out of date and conflicting.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

Twitter:

Lottapianos Tue 26-Jul-16 12:20:52

'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.'

Very true. This article seems to be talking about possible benefits for children who are school age, not preschool age children who are just beginning to develop their attention and listening skills, social interaction and early language skills. The American Association of Pediatrics recommend no screen time at all for under 2s, and a maximum of 30 minutes per day for under 3s.

CherryPicking Tue 26-Jul-16 23:30:54

I'm not really sure what the point is here - we can't abdicate our responsibility to filter and monitor. Most of today's young-ish parents have also been using the internet since they were teenagers, and we're still using it now. We know what the benefits are and we're wise to the risks too. What more do you want?!

BonjourMinou Wed 27-Jul-16 08:38:57

I have to disagree with those saying under 2s don't learn from screens, my 2 year old has picked up loads from the iPad. Colours, numbers, letters etc. Obviously screen time Is limited and we do get out and about and socialise (as if anyone has a toddler using a screen wouldn't also be taking them out on walks and to baby groups etc) but I do feel that it does supplement her education. And she's Already quite IT literate!

BonjourMinou Wed 27-Jul-16 08:40:40

I have to disagree with those saying under 2s don't learn from screens, my 2 year old has picked up loads from the iPad. Colours, numbers, letters etc. Obviously screen time Is limited and we do get out and about and socialise (as if anyone has a toddler using a screen wouldn't also be taking them out on walks and to baby groups etc) but I do feel that it does supplement her education. And she's Already quite IT literate!

WoahSlowDown Wed 27-Jul-16 08:43:10

I don't understand the point of the OP. It seems what they are saying is ridiculously obvious. confusedEveryone knows there is good and bad points about kids going online. It not conflicting advice that parents are getting it's just advice.......

Mycatsabastard Wed 27-Jul-16 13:20:08

I've never had to monitor screen time. I find that DD2 will happily spend most of a day on her laptop or tablet but then won't go on either for a couple of weeks. Sometimes she just needs downtime and that's her way of having it.

She reads a lot too and does loads of activities and plays out with friends so I think there's a nice balance.

Peniston Thu 28-Jul-16 09:08:25

I wonder how the research project was funded?

fargone Tue 02-Aug-16 11:59:14

Great to see some academic research on the topic, and some emphasis on the opportunities without overstating the risks. Not to say there are no risks, but there are lots of kids learning, creating and doing constructive activities online!

user1488902838 Tue 07-Mar-17 16:39:10

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

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