Posted 6 months ago

Debunking the myths: In this second post we look at whether time online is bad for children and how parents need to take control.


Is time online as bad as they say for children?

In her article Professor Livingstone argues that the evidence does not necessarily support the view that somehow time spent online is time wasted to young lives, nor that screen-time is necessarily bad. She also suggests that it is a far more complex situation than parents simply banning children from the Internet to save them from the online risks. I would have to agree.


Each of these, however, should be explored in more depth. 

Firstly, the issue of screen-time is one of increasing concern, making more headlines over time. The 5Rights Coalition to which, New Era are signatories identifies the compulsive use of technology as a public health issue. It is difficult to disagree with that. Compulsive behaviour in any field is not to be encouraged. But the arguments around screen-time are not simple.


Focus on when screen time occurs

One consideration is not necessarily how much time but when screen-time occurs. The quality and impact of screen-time is key. The Status of Mind report looking at the impact of the five major Social Media platforms (including Youtube) across a range of well-being measures indicates that the biggest negative impact of these across the board, is on sleep. I have personal albeit anecdotal evidence of this. It is very clear that our no tablets in the bedroom rule has significantly improved the sleep pattern of our grandson when he stays over. He now sleeps earlier, quicker and more deeply than when he had access to bedtime cartoons and videos on a tablet.


Is screen time encouraging interaction with others? 

Furthermore, screen-time in itself doesn’t have to mean isolating, anti-social time. We too often witness adults sat on an evening out with both parties scrolling through the latest exchange of social media posts whilst not talking to one another. This however, is not my experience of young children exploring the Internet. Quite the reverse. Whenever our grandchildren have screen-time it invariably coexists with considerable chatter and interaction. The occasion is as social as building Lego towers. Whether it is the boys excitedly chatting together about a video or game or whether it is interaction with one or more of the adults; conversation, sharing, discussion, tuition and joy are all shared outcomes.


 Make screen time a social activity 

Making screen-time a social activity is key to building successful online experiences. I regard sharing screen-time with my six-year-old grandson as important as the time I spend reading with him. And just like our reading experiences I discuss with him what he’s doing, we share the activity (I sometimes get to take charge of the characters he’s manipulating in his games or the car he’s maneuvering around a race circuit – though my skills are very low level compared to his) I monitor, support and intervene where needed. Furthermore, we model our expectations through our own behaviour- so devices are put down at meal times, breaks are taken, other activities are undertaken and shared, we get outside and undertake physical activity. 

The art of making screen-time shared doesn’t mean that every activity and every minute of every activity is shared, but it means there is active involvement and engagement. This also means that activity is monitored and checked, that risk is reduced and minimized. Rules are much easier to implement if you are a part of the activity than if you sit outside.


So, what can schools and teachers do? 

One area schools can influence screen time is through working with parents ensuring that they understand the importance of both modelling behaviour and sharing activity. It is anticipated that the Internet Safety Strategy White paper will recognize the need to support parents and the most effective route for that will be via schools. Schools working with parents is key. 

There are however, other things that schools can do. Ensuring children are set home learning activity that includes time limits for online activities and making sure that sites that are visited employ limited persuasive design practices such as autoplay videos or you might like suggestions. Use sites that have save buttons so that children can get offline as quickly as they got on without losing their work. 

New Era Education will support schools by ensuring we minimize persuasive design. Our content activities are all quick to complete and do not automatically lead to the next activity. We have save buttons on all collaborative and communication tools.