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Parents worried about the time their kids are likely to spend on screens this summer shouldn’t worry so much about the time they spend on technology, but on what they are using the devices for and where they’re using them, according to a new study.
The Families and screen time: Current advice and emerging research study by LSE researchers Alicia Blum-Ross and Sonia Livingstone says most reports on children and screen use focus on the negative. It calls instead for a recognition that media use by children is no longer an optional extra and that ‘screen time’ cannot be homogenised as a uniform or inevitably problematic activity.
It suggests that experts should move beyond the dominant message to parents that their main responsibility is to limit and control because it leaves parents “unsupported in finding opportunities for children and parents to learn, connect and create together using digital media”.
Instead, it says devices can be educational, promote creativity, civic action and good relations. It says: “The historical focus on screen time has been at the expense of supporting parents to assess the contexts in which their children use screens (where, when, why and with what effects), the content they are accessing (a minority of content is objectionable while the majority is innocuous or indeed positive), and the connections they are fostering through screens.”
It states that what matters most is that parents and children “can evaluate and discriminate among different types of media contents and activities according to what they can offer, for better or for worse”. In the process parents can gain digital expertise, it says, if resources are developed to help them learn how to collaborate with, and mentor, children around and through digital media.
It calls for advice and support to be tailored according to diversity in family interests and values, including rapid changes in levels of parental digital expertise and resources. It also recommends that the particular challenges faced by low-income families and those with special educational needs and disabilities, be addressed. And it calls for help for families to recognise the difference between problematic and normal use.
One concrete recommendation for government is for a highly visible ‘one-stop shop’ that British parents and family and children-focused professionals can access for up-to-date, evidence-based advice. It also calls for industry to ensure that children have access to “diverse high quality pro-social content that challenges stereotypes and is inclusive of different kinds of families and representations of society”.
The authors says: “Empowering and enabling parents to build on their own expertise, acknowledging their specific circumstances, and optimising their children’s opportunities while minimising the risk of harm in a digital age will surely be of widespread benefit.”
*Picture credit: Wikimedia.