A new study by Common Sense Media, introduced as:

The New Normal: Parents, Teens, and Mobile Devices in the United Kingdom surveyed 1,200 U.K. parents and teens about their mobile device use and digital media habits. In addition to mobile devices being a daily source of distraction — and, at times, conflict — the results show the variety of ways that digital devices can affect the parent-teen dynamic. Despite reporting concerns about feelings of addiction, parents and teens in the U.K. are optimistic about the benefits of smartphones and other mobile devices.

Talking about a previous report, Michael Robb said:

The days when we could talk about a singular “effect” of social media are long gone; its role is complex, nuanced, and varied. And, as any parent knows, social media is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to thinking about digital well-being.

The Telegraph reports the newest report as:

Half of parents and teenagers admit they get distracted by their phones on a daily basis with similar proportions also saying they feel “addicted” to their devices. As a result, conversations and meal-times are regularly disrupted with both children and parents critical of each other’s usage.

I’ve talked about addiction several times in the past, with research demonstrating that people over-use the word ‘addicted’ (which is a medical condition), and that many people may have poor mobile phone habits that need addressing, but if the media is always telling us that we’re addicted, then it’s easy to say that we also are addicted. I spoke about this as part of a talk at Premier Digital Conference last year (come and join us this year on 3 November):

‘Left to their own devices’ for #PremDac17 from Bex Lewis

The Telegraph highlights this towards the end of their article:

Another 45 percent of parents and 31 percent of teens check their devices within 30 minutes of waking up. More than half of parents and teens admitted they checked their phones at least every hour. And more than half of parents and almost two thirds of teenagers always or very often felt the need to respond immediately to texts, social media messages and other notifications.

This says far more about our cultural expectations of the technology, than it does about the technology itself. Technology allows us to respond 24/7, it doesn’t mean that we have to. See p167 of my book Raising Children in a Digital Age :

Antony Mayfield, a digital consultant, notes that we like to pretend that we’re in thrall to our machines: “Oh, I must take this call”, but the machines don’t care what we do. As I outlined in “Meet @drbexl”, when we first got a TV I was rather obsessed with anything on it: Sometimes a mild obsession can be helpful while you become literate in a new medium, but then you need to be able to make it work in terms which fit in with whatever you want to do with your life.

The ever-sensible and insightful Professor Sonia Livingstone responded to this already via LSE ‘Parenting for a Digital Future’, saying ‘The problem with calling this ‘addiction’ is that it implies people can and should simply cut down or disengage – even that they are morally failing to cope’, and that media discourse contributes to this feeling. She also says:

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.

She finishes with:

… the Parenting for a Digital Future project is finding that parents are often unsupported by others – society, community, family, tech companies – in facing the digital world. Maybe, then, it’s society’s responsibility to support families struggling with the ‘new normal’ that we should focus on.

Agree with Willow Bay, dean at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, commenting in the Telegraph:

“We have to find a way to integrate them into our lives and the lives of our children. This is the first generation of parents immersed in the technology but also helping their teenagers manage mobile devices and social media,” she said.

I grew up in a household without a television, about which similar complaints have been made (new technologies always bring moral panics), but I was (and am) an avid reading, and was always told to put my book down before coming to the dinner table:

Two-thirds of families said they set rules on the use of mobiles in the home such as a ban at meals or bedtime but 70 percent admitted they were broken, mostly by the teenagers but in up to 17 percent of cases by parents.

The report highlights (via the LSE article) something that’s not highlighted in media reports on this report:

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.

Premier Christian Radio asked me to think about ‘how can we as Christians think reasonably about our own phone usage and resolve disagreements well’. This question always returns me to the question of ‘grace’, and how we demonstrate the ‘fruits of the spirit’ in any part of our lives, including online. I’ve spoke about graceful social media usage at many events, including an event for the URC church in June 2017:

Social Media and the Church for URC from Bex Lewis
As Christians we are very much living in the world, but as the verse says ‘living in the world, but not of it’, so thinking about our media use as much as anything else, as I talked about at the Premier Digital Conference in 2014:

#CNMAC14 – Digital Healthcheck with @drbexl from Bex Lewis

We need to look at our own behaviours, see how they are impacting us, how they are impacting others, calling for change on a wider basis (as Sonia says above) to help people who are struggling with their use. As families we should be talking about our digital/social media use (including conversations at the dinner table), not only about the time spent on it, but what we’re doing on it, what we find helpful, what we don’t find helpful, and considering ways that we can help each other use technology for good, rather than negatively. The more we talk, the less resentments are going to build up.

This goes for work too – at work we discussed our e-mail responses as a team. There are already university policies requiring a 72 hour response in the working week (allowing space for research days, external meetings, etc.), and we would say good use of out-of-office for when we’re on leave, redirecting to others who can help. As a team, we agree that we don’t reply to emails in the evening (unless we’re working late), or at the weekend, and there’s certainly no expectation of response from anyone if sent. These expectations are made clear to students, and they are expected to work to this, making best use of online discussion spaces such as Moodle to ensure that any responses benefit the wider community. It’s a challenge within ‘consumerised higher education’, but it’s important for the mental wellbeing of staff.

You can listen to the whole programme here (I’m around 40ish minutes in), or just the extract here:

Photo by Nelly Jerobon on Unsplash

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.