You are here

Parents should stop worrying about screen time, says new report

By Gary Crossing

Parents should stop worrying about the amount of time their children spend on screen and concentrate instead on how they are using their digital media, according to a new report by Alicia Blum-Ross and Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics.

The Families and Screen Time briefing calls the emphasis on screen time ‘misleading’ and ‘obsolete’ and says that parents should ask themselves and their children the more important questions about the context and content of their digital media use, as well as the connections they make though it.

The briefing also acknowledges that a new generation of parents are becoming increasingly tech savvy and challenges the outdated view that children, as ‘digital natives’ who know more than their poor, technologically illiterate parents.


Parents can help their children by not being intimidated by new technologies

It argues that advice for parents about digital media, especially from official sources such as government agencies, needs to move away from focusing on the online risks and harms facing children and young people, and concentrate on the positive experiences and opportunities.

The briefing says: Parents can help their children by not being intimidated by new technologies, as well as modelling constructive and balanced digital habits themselves.’

Telling parents that their responsibility is to limit and control their child’s screen time leaves them unsupported in finding opportunities for families to learn, connect and create together using digital media.

According to the briefing, ‘media use is no longer an optional extra, something that can be bracketed off from daily life.’

It cites the fact that the amount of time that 8 to 15-year-olds in the UK spend online has more than doubled, rising from 6.2 hours per week in 2005, to an average 15 hours in 2015. The number of younger children who go online has also increased, from 47% of 3 to 7-year-olds in 2014, to 61% in 2015.


‘Is my child having fun and learning in their use of digital media?’

This increase in the daily use of digital media now includes time for learning, entertainment, and interacting socially with friends and relatives. It’s a place for creativity, information and even civic action, as well as a source of problems and risk.

Parents should now assess the contexts in which their children use screens (where, when, why and with what effects), the content they are accessing (a minority of content is objectionable, while the majority is innocuous or indeed positive), and the connections they are fostering through screens.

Besides using the 3Cs of context, content and connections, the briefing says that parents should also consider these questions:

a. Is my child physically healthy and sleeping enough?
b. Is my child connecting socially with family and friends (in any form)?
c. Is my child engaged with and achieving in school?
d. Is my child pursuing interests and hobbies (in any form)?
e. Is my child having fun and learning in their use of digital media?

‘What matters most is that parents and children can evaluate and discriminate among different types of media contents and activities according to what they can offer, for better or for worse.
‘Fortunately, in meeting this challenge, parents are themselves gaining digital expertise, albeit very unevenly and unequally, that can be a resource for their children if appropriately harnessed.’

Among its many conclusions, the briefing suggests that parents need more advice and support from the government, NGOs, policy makers and industry. It recommends a ‘highly visible ‘one-stop shop’ that British parents and family and children-focused professionals can access for up-to-date, evidence-based advice and recommendations.’

View the briefing here.


Image: Public Domain