The good, the bad and the downright uuuugleee…
Most of the battles with our kids are about their screens. We have four children, two teenagers and two tweens, so that all adds up to quite a lot of battling!
We fight over how much time they spend on them, how addictive they are, what they are allowed to watch, where they are allowed to take their screens, how little exercise they get, how antisocial they are, about the dangers associated with being online, how little reading they are doing.
We are concerned about how they seem to have very few other hobbies, how they don’t feel hungry while they are absorbed and so can end up binge eating afterwards, how they are not interacting with one another and therefore missing out on developing critical social skills!
That’s not to mention the potential damage to their eyesight and posture or maybe even brains due to exposure to radiation.
The thing is, I know we are not the only parents fighting these battles. It’s one of the top topics that crosses our common radar.
There are many problems around screens but the biggest problem is we just have little idea how to go about addressing them. We are the first generation of parents who are fighting this battle at the frontline, we have no role models to rely on. We also have very little information available on how to address the issue as research in very much in the infancy stages.
So I decided to do some investigation to see what I could find to equip myself, hopefully it will be beneficial to others too. What I discovered is that, although the research is still in it’s early days, there are plenty of resources for parents and educators. Here’s the bad and the ugly but also some good!
Historically whenever something new has appeared on the scene, it has caused a certain amount of suspicion. When the novel first arrived, parents were concerned that their children would become idle and perverted. The cinema was another phenomenon that cause alarm and distress amongst worried parents. This was followed by the woes over the evil of TV. The all-consuming effects of watching television are parodied by Roald Dahl with his depiction of Mike Teevee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
We look back at those examples and possibly think that those parents had no idea how easy they had it, by comparison the digital and social media revolution seems way bigger and way scarier!
Although each generation has their concerns, to some extent our battle as parents nowadays may be more cause for alarm. Research is coming to light that demonstrates how our generation of children are suffering more than any before with a variety of conditions realted to screen usage including obesity, anxiety, depression and even suicide. Our own town was rocked just before Christmas by the suicide of a 14 year old boy due to being bullied online.
Here is just some of the research I have found:
Children’s mobile phone usage may have negative impact on development: Mobile phone use among young children may cause “significant educational costs”, with those who own a phone at nine years old faring less well in academic development as they get older, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). It found that children who owned a mobile phone at nine years-old scored 4% less on average in standardised reading and maths tests by the time they were 13.Irish Examiner January 2019
How Do Smartphones Affect Childhood Psychology? Some studies estimate that an average person checks their screen 150 times a day. Data from Britain shows almost 70 percent of “11- to 12-year-olds use a mobile phone and this increases to close to 90 percent by the age of 14.” Furthermore is it estimated that 25 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5 have a smartphone. Children need to experience the world around them to accommodate new ideas. For children, face-to-face interactions are the primary ways they gain knowledge and learn.psychcentral.com October 2018
How Smart Phones Are Causing Kids to Experience ‘Altered Childhoods’ Teens today are experiencing a slower path to embracing adult responsibilities than ever before. Researchers concluded that cell phone and tablet engagement was at least partially to blame. Because with social connection always just a few clicks away, teens today are less likely to leave their homes and seek that connection in the “real” world.Healthline.com May 2018
What is a great cause for concern is the type of content that is available online which can easily be seen at a click of a button in the presumed safety of our own homes. A child merely needs to type in seemingly innocent words like fantasy and girls for images to pop up that are rated for adult viewing only. With worrying information that boys as young as 9 years old are becoming hooked on pornography we may be tempted to run and hide them under a rock.
It is easier for kids to say hurtful things online than to say it face to face – the protection of a screen lends a type of false bravado. I briefly mentioned above the devastating effect of cyber bullying for a local family and sadly this is not an isolated case. We are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of online abuse as our news is filled with more and more acounts of teen suicides.
Although these cases are rare, there is no harm in being vigilant and setting up safe parameters for our kids.
Not all the news about phone and screen usage is bad news, there are some benefits too aparently. The article mentioned above in psychcentral lists some benefits to phone usage:
- A child is more capable of handling rapid cybersearches, making quick decisions, developing visual acuity, and multitasking.
- Games help develop peripheral vision.
- Visual motor tasks like tracking objects or visually searching for items is improved.
- Internet users tend to use decision-making and problem-solving brain regions more often.
- Smartphones and tablets can foster learning concepts, communication, and camaraderie.
My own kids have learnt a surpirsingly huge amount online and are constantly giving me all sorts of baking tips as well as recipes on how to make slime!
Always trying to look for the positives, I suppose that less interpersonal interaction between teens and young adults may in turn lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies and underage drinking parties!
One thing is for certain and that is the digital age is here to stay and it is growing everyday. As parents there is no way we can be digitally one step ahead of out kids as they usually are way more tech savvy than us already. However, we can set up some safety guidelines as well as chat to our kids about our expectations are.
18 tips for safe screen usage
Here are 18 tips to use that can help parents and kids make the most of time spent on their screens:
- Children under two should not be using screens or electronic devices.
- Don’t block internet use entirely! We live in a digital age and it is a valuable resource which can be used wisely.
- Make time to open up communication opportunities with your older children around their phone use, talk about your concerns and listen to theirs.
- Agree to some tech free zones in the home, most agree that the three to include would be the bedroom, the car and the table (meal times).
- Find out what apps they are using and make sure you understand the age limits as well as how these apps work.
- Play alongside your children and interact with them face-to-face.
- Make sure smartphones don’t interfere with opportunities for play and socializing or sports activities.
- Encourage reading time or other hobbies to balance out the time they spend online.
- Limit screen use to one or two hours a day. This includes phones, TV, computers and tablets.
- Having a smartphone isn’t a right, it’s a priviledge. It is ok to use one as an occasional treat.
- Check your own usage and model positive smartphone use.
- Factor in family meal times together as many days in the week.
- Look for quality apps that promote building vocabulary, mathematical, literacy, and science concepts.
- Keep smartphones and other internet enabled devices out of the bedrooms.
- Regularly check your child’s internet history – remember you are the parent and it’s ok to set boundaries.
- Plan fun activities to do together as a family.
- Teach your kids to practice critical thinking, i.e. not everything they read online is true.
- Talk to your child about privacy issues and teach him or her to keep personal information private online. YAPPY is a useful acronym to remind them of some of the personal information they should not share. YAPPY stands for: Your full name, Address, Phone number, Passwords, Your plans
It’s easy for images to be shared quickly and widely. It’s not easy to delete information once it is online as it spreads so fast. Kids who share information now have no sense of the consequences and how indiscrete images or information may potentially damage future opportunities. Nowadays employers do online searches via their potential interview candidate’s social media accounts in order to determine their character.
Some internet safety resources for parents
- Tips for Managing Smartphone Use by Kids
- Simple Steps To Protect Your Kids Online (Last updated: 12 February 2019)
- Common Sense Media – a very handy review site on films and programmes kids watch
- Cybersafeireland is available for school and parent talks.
- Childnet International – Free internet safety resources for parents
- Webwise.ie – Keep up to date with the latest apps and social networks your children are using
- NSPCC online safety – preventing online abuse
- UK Council for Internet Safety
- Netaware – Your guide to the social networks your kids use