Online times

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
This week, Ian Munro discusses being a parent in the "information-age".


Over the past decade I’ve written several columns about children and computers and each time I’ve noted the speed at which things have changed since the previous writing.

Way back at the turn of the century there was debate over whether the computer could ever be an effective educational tool. Alison Armstrong, co-author of The Child and the Machine, held that school libraries need books, atlases and magazines more than they needed computers.

Apple Mac’s Steve Jobs was even on record as saying he didn’t believe computers could solve problems in educational delivery.

Theodore Roszack, author of The Cult of Information was calling the internet "electronic graffiti". He thought the idea that we would be swimming in a sea of information to be idiotic.

And here we are, not many years later, almost drowning in information, with computers undoubtedly becoming more and more effective educational tools.

For parents, there is a dilemma. For some time now the perceived wisdom has been that we should be limiting our offspring’s screen time, perhaps to no more than two hours a day. There are the concerns around online safety, cyberbullying and possible effects on health and development.

And yet, with even the junior classes in our schools making use of screens throughout the teaching day, how do you begin to count the two hours? At the same time, we’re investing heavily in digital technologies ourselves to communicate and maintain connections, to be informed, to manage our daily life, to further work and business and for our youngsters’ education.

"Families and screen time", a 2016 report by Alicia Blum-Ross and Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics (LSE), noted the anxiety parents were feeling over wanting to keep their youngsters safe by restricting access while not wanting them to be left behind through failure to provide "digital opportunities".

They hold that even though our emerging parents, having grown up with digital technology themselves, have few issues with it, they’re not using it as well or effectively as their youngsters. They shouldn’t take it for granted that they fully understand the role this technology plays in their children’s lives.

Blum-Ross and Livingstone emphasise that parents need to understand where, how, when, and with what effects children are accessing digital media, what they are watching and using, and how it is facilitating or undermining relationships.

They argue that the old advice given to parents that their main role is to police and restrict is now irrelevant, while the American Academy of Paediatrics recently noted that "screen time" is becoming simply "time", which suggests that the whole idea of restricting screen time is also now pretty much irrelevant.

- Next week, Blum-Ross and Livingstone’s suggestions for parents. 

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