Or does it?
In recent weeks, there have been a lot of rumblings in the news about social media particularly in connection with the impact on children. For the purposes of this article I’m using the term social media loosely to include all screen time ie not just Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter etc. but also television and video games.
It is astonishing how quickly the landscape has changed in just a few years. The social media influences were there when my sons were in school but data was very expensive so that inadvertently restricted access and in turn reduced the amount of influence it had on our day-to-day lives. Having said that, the core parenting principles to apply in this area remain the same.
I remember having to keep the PlayStation cable in my office on weekdays and only bringing it back home at weekends. Today you have many more things to track as a parent but then there are also many advanced technology tools to help you stay on top of things. No matter the era, the issues generally are keeping up-to-date as a parent, finding the time to implement what you’ve learnt and then following through.
In 2015, the results of a research conducted for the kids clothing retailer, www.vertbaudet.co.uk revealed that about 4 in every 5 parents think that technology enhances their child’s development.
Another research highlighted that whilst about a quarter of parents were of the opinion it made their child confident in the use of technology, more than a third admitted to using gadgets to keep their children entertained, as it was more convenient do so.
One question that needs to be addressed irrespective of the reasons for exposure to social media and tech gadgets is this: at what point does screen time become excessive and start to have a negative impact?
Here are some facts to consider…
Impact on Academic Attainment
A 2015 Cambridge University research recorded the activities of just over 800 14-year-olds then analysed their GCSE results at 16. An extract of the findings summarised on the BBC News website is shown below:
|Habit||Impact on GCSE Results|
|One hour extra screen time daily||Drop in GCSE results of 9.3 points; equivalent to a dropping a grade in 2 subjects|
|Two hours extra screen time daily||Drop in GCSE results of 18 points; equivalent to a dropping a grade in 4 subjects|
|One hour extra homework / study||Additional 23 GCSE points on average|
|Extra studying and extra screen time||The extra screen time still harmed the results|
Basically the results showed a direct correlation between spending extra time on tech gadgets including television in Year 10 and poorer grades at GCSE.
Although more research is required before these results can be conclusive, any parent who cares about their child’s attainment would be better off paying some attention to this.
It does not end with academics though…
Impact on Health
Increasingly psychologists are drawing parallels between drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling addiction and screen time addiction. They argue that excessive time spent on social media and tech gadgets is causing an increase in mental health issues amongst young people such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and even suicide.
Cyber Bullying and Safeguarding Risks
This is rife and a child left unattended, with lack of guidance and too much time online is very likely to be a victim.
Just a few weeks ago several schools in London flagged fresh concerns to parents about pupils seeing indecent images of either themselves or people known to them on some Snapchat forums namely, baitout, baitoutpage2 and baitoutbackup2. This is one of a number of such incidences in recent times.
Is It All Bad News?
This is not an anti-technology article.
There are enormous benefits associated with using technology correctly. I am a strong advocate for its appropriate usage and in my recently published eBook: 12 Ways to Become The Parent Who Gets Things Done, there are a lot of cues on how to use technology to become more effective.
We live in an information-age and it means that with the advancements in technology pupils are able to conduct quicker and much more in-depth research than ever before as long as they remain focused. Additionally websites such as BBC Bitesize and YouTube channels such as Math Antics provide excellent resources to augment what your child is learning at school.
The issue to address is balance… how much time screen time is your child spending overall on a daily basis and even more pertinently, how much of that is recreational screen time?
What Can You Do As A Parent?
The change starts with you. Let’s be honest even adults struggle with screen time addiction and the first step towards seeing a change in your child is for you to become a good role model.
Establish Rules for the Entire Family
Spell out the maximum entertainment screen time allowed per day for each member of the family; this should cover television, video games as well as time spent on social media. A note of caution, this has to be handled sensibly as a lot of homework is done online, what you are trying to achieve is reduced recreational screen time.
With the right technology (see below) you can ensure that your child is not sneakily spending the time they should be doing their homework on social media to make up for the reduced recreational screen time.
Communicate the New Guidelines With Your Child
It is important that the new guidelines are stated clearly to your child. The consequences for breaking them and rewards for compliance should be clear and appropriate. For example it probably does not make sense to reward compliance with more screen time as it may undermine what you are trying to achieve.
Use Technology for Capping
Once you have decided the total screen time allowed per day, there are a number of apps that you can use to enforce the time limit. An example is ScreenLimit which can be used on several platforms and for up to ten children. Basically it will help you follow through on the boundaries you’ve set by limiting screen time, and if used appropriately helps establish the message that recreational screen time is a privilege, not a right.
Regular Screen Breaks
This exercise will stop your child’s brain from being over-stimulated and will facilitate quality family time where you talk to each other, build lasting bonds and trust plus you spend the time together developing strong values in your child. You could for instance ensure that meal times are sacrosanct; the television is not playing in the background during meals and there are no mobile phones at the dining table.
You could also for instance have a screen blackout period for an hour or more before bedtime everyday, read a book with your child during that time instead.
Screen Free Zones
To safeguard your child, it may be necessary not to have any screens in the bedroom. So even if your teenager has his/her own laptop, for visibility you may insist on the laptop being in a more central part of the home rather than in their bedroom. You will however also need to make the sacrifice to ensure that you are not watching the television in the background and distracting your child whilst homework is being done.
Work with your child to come up with a range of recreational activities they enjoy to replace the screen entertainment time. This could include outdoor activities such as gardening, sports activities or going to the park – you will all get fit in the process. It could even be indoor fun activities like baking, craftwork, Lego etc. You will be amazed at how creative you can become as a family and how much fun you will have together when you choose to do this.
Once you have set and agreed these new rules, you also have to abide by them and model the behaviour that you want to see in your child. If this is going to work, you need to mean what you say, say what you mean and also do what you say. Don’t keep moving the goal posts; ensure that you enforce the consequences of disobedience and reward compliance in line with the rules you set.
Become Tech Savvy
Not knowing anything about technology does not cut it in today’s world. If you are to safeguard your child online, you need to know how to restrict access to certain sites, phrases or words etc. Alternatively get someone else to help you with this, not doing it is however not an option if your child is to remain safe online.
Your child should have recreational time and should be able to use technology effectively. This article helps you reflect and take steps to ensure that not all of their recreational time is screen time based; and that screen time usage is mainly for the right reasons. Taking these initial steps should empower you to stop your child from ending up with the undesirable social media outcomes that research has highlighted.
Dare I reiterate that the most convenient option is not always the best option? Using the television or any screen for that matter to babysit your toddler is effectively neglect and if you remember the Catch Them Young blog published a few weeks ago, it is the wrong habit to hard-wire into your child.
And lest you think this is too extreme, note that Steve Jobs who founded Apple did not let his children play with iPads at all and Bill Gates who founded Microsoft enforced video game time limits for his daughter.
There’s a whole lot more you can do as a parent but hopefully the above has provided some pointers to help you consider how to handle social media in your household going forward.