Having featured on Steve Wright‘s show last year, I’ve listened to Radio 2 a lot more. This week @TheJeremyVine has been speaking about digital/social media  culture – an area that I both work in, and am passionately interested in, and particularly whether we spend too long online. So, I’m sharing a bit of my book Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst to add to the conversation (p176-178):

book-cover-bex-400Recommended screen time

Ever since the 1999 American Academy of Pediatrics discouraged television viewing for children younger than two, citing that age group’s critical need for “direct interaction with parents” and others, we’ve been left with the impression that screen time is bad. As Hanna Rosin, a technology journalist, notes, such statements assume that an hour spent watching TV is an hour not spent doing something deemed more constructive, but, as we’ve already seen, most children continue to have a varied range of activities. She was visiting a developers’ conference, anticipating that she would get some up-to-date guidance on screen use. She found, however, that most were proffering the same old advice, with rules including no screen time during the week, no more than half an hour a day, only on long journeys, and never use it as an e-babysitter – although one excused this as educational: “I only let her watch movies in Spanish.”

We agree on no more than thirty minutes a day of any technology, and we never let our children use the internet unsupervised.
(Parent, 2 or under, 3 to 5, 6 to 9)

Parents feel very pressured to allow their children a lot of access. We take the view that much of this access is a privilege and not a right, and that frames our family usage.
(Parent, 6 to 9, 13 to 15)

The CHILDWISE Monitor Report 2012 indicates that most children over five are getting somewhere between four and eight hours of total screen time per day, including TV, the internet, games consoles, and mobile phones. The average time spent on the internet has remained constant at around two and a half hours over the last four to five years, although an increasing number are looking at two or three screens at once. The largest amounts of time spent online involve social networking and gaming.

In March 2013, the Medical Research Council in Glasgow published the results of a study involving over 11,000 children, which explored possible links between behavioural problems  and children’s screen time. “It found little direct connection between the two once other factors such as parental attitudes and wellbeing had been taken into consideration.”

Some parents are happy that their children spend so much time online because it shows they are passionate about something. Parents should be encouraged to help their children identify websites that encourage their passions. For example, it has been seen that those who watch online football will probably want to go out and try the game for themselves. Other parents recommend that families plan their screen time, suggesting a monthly day of no screens, screen-free time from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in school holidays, and/or no screens in bedrooms after 9 p.m. One CHILDWISE 2012 statistic that parents may be interested in is that “those who access the Internet in their own room spend an average of two hours a day online, those accessing elsewhere at home use for just one hour a day on average”.

The chapter continues to consider the ‘bedroom culture’ that has become typical, and looks at a number of people who disconnected ‘digitally’ – a useful exercise in self-awareness, boundary-raising, etc. but little more than that. I’m all for having a good balance, but the final part of that chapter focused on the notion of ‘reading online’, which, as someone who was brought up without a TV, but read a lot enjoys this quote (p182):

Hanna Rosin challenges the notion that books are inherently better than screens, observing that her daughter tends to use books to avoid social interaction, whilst her son uses the Wii to connect with friends.

See more from the book described by the Financial Times as ‘sensible’ in a sea of scare books.

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