In the news this weekend has been Matt Hancock’s decision to suggest a limit, rather like an alcohol limit, for screentime. Essentially I don’t have a problem with guidelines (if they are based on research), helping people understand how they are using technology (the good and the bad habits), and how it’s affecting them (for good or for bad), but it’s the context of ‘moral panic’ around ‘screentime’ that is really frustrating, from parents, from government ministers, and policy makers.
I loved the headline and the post from Ian Scales ‘Don’t believe the hype about children going online, just keep calm and carry on‘, in which he says:
So, I can’t help but feel that even mild concerns about ‘online ‘tend to feed into the current moral panic around Facebook, Google and the rest of them. As always, the problem (if problem it be) is not technology, but human behaviour. And if it wasn’t WiFi, it would be something else.
Yet 86% of parents say their teen’s use of mobile devices has not harmed or has even helped their relationship; and 97% of teens say the same of their parents’ mobile use. Further, most UK families do not think mobile devices disrupt meal times, most parents allow their teens their privacy online, and most are optimistic about the benefits…. So when I learn from Common Sense Media that if UK teens had to go without their mobile devices for a day, the most common emotion they’d feel would be boredom – 66% say this, followed by anxiety (44%) and loneliness (40%) – I don’t jump to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with today’s young generation. Rather I ask, first, what they are doing on their phones and what do they value about that and, second, what alternatives has society really provided for them, and are these both sufficient and available? And I would say the same in defence of parents’ mobile use.
— Dr Bex Lewis (@drbexl) September 30, 2018
A huge amount of what happens online relates to human expectations, work policies, cultural norms. Technology makes certain things more easy, including instant replies, 24/7 availability, but this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily a healthy process to engage with… nor should we necessarily be setting rules for ‘everyone else should do the same as me’… which means that just because someone else responds instantly doesn’t mean everyone else should!
A lot of the advice given around screentime is given to parents who feel that they don’t know what they are dealing with. My book Raising Children in a Digital Age was written to help such parents – who care, and want to know what to do, but don’t feel confident. Many are very good at setting boundaries for tech use as much as any other part of life, others aren’t, or don’t care, so there’s a question of whether we can reduce the peer pressure on children – but demonising technology as the cause of this doesn’t help.
Too much re social media and mental health has focused on correlation and not causation, or asking children what they feel makes them feel stressed (in quite a leading way), and with the media discourse indicating that social media is part of this, this can be something easy to blame rather than other factors such as poverty, inequality, austerity, and the cutbacks to public service which means there’s less youth clubs, etc.
I’m a big fan of what can we add in to make things better, rather than ‘don’t do this’. As someone with disordered eating, diets (which is what this seems akin to) have just entirely messed up my engagement with food – and it’s taken a lot of work with Beyond Chocolate to even get me back on an even keel – one of their points is listening to what is healthy for you, and following other’s rules feels like restriction and causes rebellion. I also don’t like the comparison between alcohol and social media in this case, although I have used it in the past to say that e.g. in France it was well known that children were introduced to alcohol at a young age, and therefore binge drinking didn’t become such a thing.
See also this piece from Mashable:
When asked at which point in their life they’d felt the most lonely, the most common answer people of all generations gave was during young adulthood. This suggests even people who had little to no screen time or social media in their youth still retrospectively view the period as a lonely.
Lots to think about!
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.