Ofcom today have released their latest Children and parents: media use and attitudes report, and I’ve just been speaking to Emma Borthwick on BBC Radio Cumbria about that:
- TV sets and tablets dominate device use, but time spent watching TV on a TV set (broadcast or on demand) is decreasing
- The viewing landscape is complex, with half of 5-15s watching OTT television services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV
- YouTube is becoming the viewing platform of choice, with rising popularity particularly among 8-11s. Within this, vloggers are an increasingly important source of content and creativity
- Online gaming is increasingly popular; three-quarters of 5-15s who play games do so online
- Social media can bring a combination of social pressures and positive influences
- TV and social media are important sources of news, but many have concerns over the accuracy and trustworthiness of news on social media
- A majority of online 12-15s think critically about websites they visit, but only a third correctly understand search engine advertising
- Children are still being exposed to unwanted experiences online, but almost all recall being taught how to use the internet safely
- There has been an increase in parents of 12-15s and of 12-15s themselves saying that controlling screen time has become harder; however most 12-15s consider they have a struck a good balance between this and doing other things
- Parental concerns about the internet are rising, although parents are, in some areas, becoming less likely to moderate their child’s activities
The press release focused on why children spend time online.
A few notes
My scribbles in relation to the press release:
- 5-15 is a very large age range, expect a lot of difference within them, especially with 13 the legal age for having a social media account.
- There are so many moral panics about screentime – it’s not uncontrollable, need to bring in family policies, importance of conversation, and look at screen use within the bigger picture of what else the child is doing.
- We could say that TV is passive, and online is interactive, but we can clearly see that TV ‘appointment viewing’ is family time (and dual screening is possible – especially with wider family/friends).
- It’s about screen CONTENT over time – there’s an option to mix and match – e.g. ‘you’ve seen that football shot, shall we now go and have a go at it’. It’s not about demonising the screen, but letting it find a healthy place – never about being entirely unboundaried – think about creating ‘healthy habits’.
- Content children are looking at on YouTube = how to (top thing for YT for all users), celebrities (as always has been), and unboxing (unique – curious, but if you can’t afford one, can enjoy vicariously?).
- Note that quality content is not being made for online platforms, and this is being encouraged.
- ULTIMATELY it’s about BALANCING screen in with other aspects of life, and focus on CONTENT not quantity.
- Parents need to know what their children are engaging with (content wise), and think about what is their child gaining from engagement online.
- What works for one child (even within same age group) may not work for another, as children are individuals – some children can take it or leave it, some seem to be ‘addicted’ (a medical term, so care with use), in which case they need stronger boundaries – but preferably without demonising the screen = APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES.
- Within that = mix of ‘individualistic’ behaviour, and group activities – e.g. learning to share, choose something between them, but otherwise, why not enjoy engaging with something they really like.
A few recent articles that are relevant, especially in the question of whether screentime is ‘bad’.
Activities including getting enough sleep and eating breakfast had much stronger impacts on mental health. Smoking cannabis was also 2.7 times more detrimental than screen time, while being bullied was 4.3 times more harmful.
“Of the three datasets we analysed for this study, we found over 600 million possible ways to analyse the data. We calculated a large sample of these and found that – if you wanted – you could come up with a large range of positive or negative associations between technology and wellbeing, or no effect at all.”
Most studies also rely on self-reported estimates of technology use, which often don’t reflect reality. Studies that rely on people self-reporting may get inaccurate information. Interestingly, when time in front of a screen is measured automatically by an application or device, depression and anxiety severity aren’t associated with total smartphone usage.
Research often tends to treat all technology use as equal. This assumption overlooks the fact that we have a different experience with each kind of technology we use. For example, mindlessly scrolling Instagram is very different to chatting on WhatsApp, or using a fitness tracker.
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.