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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 )

Lead photo

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The advice parents are given about screen time is out of date and conflicting.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

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

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

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!

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

I wonder how the research project was funded?

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.

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.......

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!

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!

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?!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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!)

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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!

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

Er? Source please

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.

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

This is definitely quite refreshing.

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.

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.

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