Is a #DigitalDetox a useful idea? #DigitalParenting #PremDac16

I’ve always had an interest in positive engagement with digital, and that includes the wisdom in what to share, what to engage in, and when to take time out… we should be ‘masters’ of our machines, and not the other way around. I’ve spoken at a number of (Christian) events about this, including back in 2014 at the Premier Digital Conference:

#CNMAC14 – Digital Healthcheck with @drbexl from Bex Lewis
So I was interested to see that #DigitalDetox is trending on Twitter today, after OfCom released their Communications Market Report today, a story that has been picked up by the BBC, alongside other news/digital outlets. I thought I’d share with you an extract from my 2014 book, Raising Children in a Digital Age, related to this topic (see pp.180-181):
There’s plenty to think about in relation to our engagement with technology, and we continue to learn!
Academic Digital

#DigitalParenting Book Extract re Screentime FAO @TheJeremyVine #R2ScreenWeek

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.


In the light of the Twitter Trolling Verdict #DigitalParenting

With all the news stories about Twitter trolls being sentenced, with the Evening Standard reporting that the defendant’s lawyer said:

She is a victim of that, if nothing else – a victim of a lack of understanding of what this new technology can do and how powerful it is.


John Carr, an advisor to the UK government and the UN on child online safety, highlights that the internet is part of everyday life and parents should “teach their children to apply the same values, attitudes and moral behaviour online as they do in the real world”.14

Here’s a few bits from my forthcoming book:

Troll: Someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages to an online community, with the intention of provoking other users to respond emotionally or disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

Risk factors

Headlines such as “Schoolgirl hangs herself after she’s bullied by online trolls”29 attribute much to the power of social networking alone. Research has highlighted that the factors that lead to bullying online are typically the same as those offline. Although social media may be a catalyst in teen drama, causing it to be spread faster and wider, it’s unlikely to be the sole cause of suicide. To label it as such is unhelpful, possibly even dangerous, as it may encourage copycat behaviour from others who feel that they don’t get enough attention.

When she is older, I anticipate having some worries about loss or theft of her phone, the distraction it affords, and some social issues to do with exclusion and bullying on social media, e.g. Facebook. However, these don’t seem to beoverwhelming and would have to be faced in a non-digital world too, and the perspective.

(Parent, 3 to 5)

Those at risk from cyberbullying will tend to be similar to those at risk of offline bullying: they may be physically or mentally challenged, non-heterosexual, highly intelligent or “nerdy” (socially inept), and lacking in self-confidence; they may look or dress differently, or be rule-followers. They may not defend themselves, or may be unaware of the potential danger of bullying so don’t nip things in the bud, and they may have poor relationships with parents or caregivers. We have returned, then, to the need for parents to be aware of the characteristics of their own children, and the need to communicate, communicate, communicate!


In all of this, we have to remember that these are the worst- case scenarios, tragic in every case but usually more complex than the headlines would have us believe. Social networking may be a factor, but it’s not the only one. We need to accept this if we want society to look for the right solutions to the problem, particularly ensuring that our own children are not tempted to become bullies themselves, or to stand by while others do the bullying.

See details of the book here.


[EXTRACTS]: #DigitalParenting on CyberBullying


A few extracts

Increased time spent online will most likely increase exposure to negative experiences – but also the positive opportunities. Nancy Willard, a cyberbullying expert, calls for us to work on the “understanding that the vast majority of young people want to make good choices, do not want to be harmed, and do not want to see their friends or others harmed”.7 We can’t control their whole environment, online or offline, so parents need to give their children the capability to deal with problems as they come across them.

Try: “Digiduck’s big decision” (re cyberbullying)

The start of a large section:

Taking that on board, let’s tackle another controversial issue, which has featured in frequent newspaper headlines. There have been high-profile cases, such as that of Megan Meier, who committed suicide after enduring extensive bullying online.20 Rehtaeh Parsons also committed suicide after photos of her being raped were circulated globally,21 and Olympic diver Tom 

Daley was taunted in 2012.22 In early 2013, The New York Times noted that there’s been a huge surge in anti-bullying books (something I discovered in my research for this book), spurred on in part by these high-profile cases. Several of these books are designed for parents to read together with their children, and they don’t necessarily all have happy endings.23

In all of this, we have to remember that these are the worst- case scenarios, tragic in every case but usually more complex than the headlines would have us believe. Social networking may be a factor, but it’s not the only one. We need to accept this if we want society to look for the right solutions to the problem, particularly ensuring that our own children are not tempted to become bullies themselves, or to stand by while others do the bullying.

The usual problems that children have always had in relating to other children (bullying, harassment, exclusion), [are] now transferred to a digital arena.

(Grandparents, 6 to 9)

Statistics and the particular nature of online bullying

The core difference between “traditional” bullying and “online” bullying is the nature of it. Previously, bullying would typically stop at the school gates, or at least once the child got home, although there was always the potential for phone calls, notes falling out of homework books, bricks through the window, or events replaying themselves in the mind. Online bullying, however, can be constant, happening any time of day and night, affecting the child regardless of location, including at home, and leaving a feeling that there is nowhere to escape to. The other particular characteristic of online bullying is that it is much easier for others to get involved quickly. It rapidly collects and remains permanently in cyberspace, rather than being a spur-of-the-moment action. It is therefore difficult to obtain “closure” because at any time the information might resurface and another episode of bullying, with accompanying public humiliation, could kick off.

I am concerned about the ability of some digital tools to amplify and broaden the kinds of thoughtless and/or mean-spirited peer-to-peer interactions that might at one time have existed in a scrawled note.

(Parent, 10 to 12)

Vodafone quoted research from the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) which indicates that at least two-thirds of teenagers have had positive experiences online, although most had witnessed mean behaviour to others, and less than a fifth reported being a target.24 Bullying is of particular concern to parents because of the emotional harm it can do and the way it can affect self-esteem, confidence, and school attendance and performance, and therefore overall life chances. Although the 2010 statistics for online-only bullying (6 per cent) are much lower than “traditional” bullying (19 per cent), the effects are felt more intensely, hence the huge concern about online bullying in particular.25 I was intrigued to see that, having shared the first few paragraphs of this section on Facebook, multiple people piled in with their experiences and suggestions of what was different, and how much impact bullying had had on their lives (even pre-digitally).

EXERCISE: Choose a video related to bullying (some examples here), and use it as a conversation starter with your children: 

Bullying, in its traditional form, involves aggressive and repeated actions over time by individuals or a group against a chosen victim. Cyberbullying adds a layer enabled through technology, most often via mobile phones. Parents need to be particularly aware of it between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, when there’s a noticeable peak in cyberbullying. The older child is more typically the perpetrator, although there are an increasing number taking the roles of both victim and bully, using the internet as a space to seek revenge, particularly on someone physically bigger.

ITV reported in February 2013:

  •  More than two-thirds of children say they have received abusive messages from someone they know.
  •  Almost half of youngsters keep the attack secret.
  •  One in five think sending a message in cyberspace is less damaging than face-to-face insults.
  •  Half the teenagers polled believe it is OK to say things online that you would not in person.
  •  A third of youths say they troll because their friends do so too.26

See this presentation from #CNMAC13, where I sought to summarise the issue in 10 minutes:


Some extracts from #DigitalParenting for #ALTC2013

A taste of my book, designed for a general audience, but drawing on academic thinking, triggered by some of the conversations on Twitter this morning at the conference.

Digital Natives?

book-cover-bex-lewis-160If we buy into the idea that children are ‘digital natives’, who are fundamentally different from ‘the rest of us’, we can cause serious confidence problems for parents. Traits such as collaboration, openness, innovation, transparency and openness are often ascribed to the younger generation, and these traits may exist there, but research demonstrates that they can also be observed across all generations. The EU Online Research in 2012 found that only about 20% of the 25,000 children they interviewed fitted this stereotype.[i] I have observed many students who are entirely happy using social networks such as Facebook, but struggle to conduct effective searches online, something that has been evidenced by others at e-learning conferences. Every generation is different, but there are factors other than technology that may account for the differences

Marc Prensky popularised the term ‘digital native’ in 2001, referring to those in the US education system who had grown up surrounded by technology. A more useful idea has developed from a team at Oxford University, led by Dave White: that of the ‘digital resident’ and the ‘digital visitor’, defined more by attitude than by age. ‘Visitors’ use the Internet as a tool: go in to complete a task, and leave. ‘Residents’ regard themselves as members of communities that exist online, rather than having access to an online toolbox.[ii] I am most definitely a digital resident, though I’m far too old to be a ‘digital native’.

For all of us, the online environment has changed. We increasingly have wireless broadband at home, we have more mobile devices, it’s easy to segue between online and offline, we have more control over the things we watch via time-shifted TV, we are able to shop online, search for information online, store material ‘in the cloud’, keep connected with people even when we’ve moved on through social networks, and use GPS for a range of functions. The rate of change means that there are major differences in experience across age groups – those who can remember a time before broadband, before smart phones, before Facebook, before the Nintendo Wii, and we read our experiences differently through what we’ve experienced before.

[i] ‘EU Kids Online (2009-2011)’, London School of Economics,

[ii] ‘Visitors and Residents: A Typology for Online Engagement’, David S White and Alison Le Cornu, First Monday, , Vol 16:9, 05/09/11

Not on Facebook?

Davies and Eynon do emphasise that parental attitudes are key, whether resistant to, or supportive of, technologies. If you’re one of those parents who doesn’t hover over your children online, you are not alone. Such parents tend not to vocalize such a lack of concern because it suggests a laissez-faire attitude to children’s safety that’s not seen as OK in today’s risk-managed world. The authors also highlight the particular difficulties of separated families, where parents may have completely different attitudes to Internet usage, which children have to learn to negotiate. They note that younger teenagers, excited to be finally allowed onto Facebook, find it “a necessary addition to their social lives, but not so much fun as they had expected .”[i]

Social media appears to change so fast, with ‘the latest place to be ’ seeming to change frequently: is it time for us to all join Google+ now? As with offline hangouts, however, where we actually go can remain remarkably stable. The Childwise Monitor Report 2013 found that the three favourite sites for 5-16 year olds were (in this order) Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, which have been online since 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively.[ii] We’ll look at these sites and a few others in this section, but note that a Pew Internet survey in May 2013 revealed that too many adults and too much drama on Facebook was encouraging teenagers to spend less time on (not leave) Facebook, meaning they were joining platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.[iii]

Other sites fall in and out of fashion. In 2010, much of the concern about teens online was about Formspring, and in 2013 about, where open questions could be asked, with sometimes distressing responses, whilst sites such as Medium, Vine, Keek and Pheed are starting to appear in the ‘likely to be popular’ pile. As we’ve said, take time to talk to your children about what they’re using, and ask them to demonstrate it, and/or keep an eye on the websites we’ve suggested at the end of this book.

[i] Davies, C. & Eynon, R. Teenagers and Technology, Routledge, 2013, p57

[ii] ‘Children and Their Media 2013’, Simon Leggett, Childwise,, 2013

[iii] ‘Teens, Social Media and Privacy, The Pew Research Centre’,, 21/5/13 See also: ‘I’m 13 and None of my Friends Use Facebook’, Ruby Karp, Mashable,, 11/8/13

Technology Neutral?

Technology is neutral – it can be used for good and bad ends. Martin D. Owens, a US lawyer, and author of Internet Gaming Law, sums this up nicely in the Pew 2012 report on ‘Hyper-connected lives’:

Good people do good things with their access to the Internet and social media-witness the profusion of volunteer and good cause apps and programs which are continually appearing, the investigative journalism, the rallying of pro-democracy forces across the world. Bad people do bad things with their Internet access. Porno access is all over the place—if you want it. Even Al Qaeda has a webpage, complete with interactive social games with a terrorist bent like Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom. Just as with J.R.R. Tolkien’s ring of power, the Internet grants power to the individual according to that individual’s wisdom and moral stature. Idiots are free to do idiotic things with it; the wise are free to acquire more wisdom. It was ever thus. Each new advance in knowledge and technology represents an increase in power, and the corresponding moral choices that go with that power.[i]

[i] ‘Imagining the Internet: Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives’, Pew Research Center,, 29/2/12

I’m in the process of thinking of reviewers to invite for this book, so please do let me know if you would like to suggest appropriate names.