Switching on

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Parenting columnist Ian Munro returns to the discussion surrounding digital media and children.


Much has been written about the risks to youngsters that arise from excessive screen time across all the media now available to them.

Last week I discussed the dilemma faced by parents wanting to protect their children but also not wanting them to be left behind educationally and socially.

This issue has been recently highlighted in "Families and screen time", a 2016 report by Alicia Blum-Ross and Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics.

Blum-Rose and Livingstone group the risks generally associated with digital media use into four main categories:

• conduct risks (e.g. bullying, sexting, misuse of personal information);

• content risks (e.g. pornographic, violent, racist, false information);

• contact risks (e.g. "stranger danger", stalking, harassment, impersonation);

commercial risks (e.g. advertising, excessive or hidden marketing, in-app purchases, scams). There are also possible health risks through being sedentary, and from poor posture and lengthy viewing of LED screens.

However, they contend that risks are not in themselves harms and, as risks, will not apply to all youngsters and can be managed.

They would also like parents to consider that digital media can provide many positive outcomes for youngsters in the areas of:

• learning, creativity, personal expression and academic achievement;

• connection with others;

• developing community engagement.

To reduce risk and maximise opportunity, there are a number things parents can do. We can:

• recognise that a restrictive approach may avoid risk in the short term but is also likely to limit opportunities and bring about secretive behaviours;

• look to build their resilience to risk in order to avoid harm;

• monitor their digital whereabouts and discuss who they’re interacting with;

• upskill ourselves so we don’t feel intimidated by the new technologies our youngsters are mastering;

• model good digital habits by balancing our own use with other activities;

• not use media as a way of keeping youngsters quiet and busy but jointly engage with media;

• adjust our strategies to the age, interests and needs of our youngsters;

• avoid feeling pressured to keep up with others.

In summary, we shouldn’t assume that digital media use by our youngsters is problematic. Blum-Rose and Livingstone suggest we can assess whether risks are becoming harms by asking whether or not our youngsters are:

• physically healthy and sleeping enough;

• connecting socially with family and friends in any form;

• engaged with and achieving in school;

• pursuing interests and hobbies in any form;

• having fun and learning as they use digital media.


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