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New research undertaken by the company Startrite into internet usage by tweens was released this week. Their aim was to speak to the kids directly, without the influence of their parents, to find out how kids use the internet.
The survey of 698 children was conducted in primary schools in England, with 17 schools selected to give a good geographical spread. Almost all of the children surveyed own some kind of digital device, and 45% of them said that their parents don’t set rules on how long they can use it. 20% of the children aged 7 – 8 years old use their devices more than 4 hours a day, and almost half admit to using their device in secret.
Anyone surprised by this?
My kids spend sometimes four hours and more on their gadgets, and I am not ashamed to admit it. They aren’t pasty-faced children, who hunch over computer screens in darkened rooms. They are what we so often term “digital natives”. Here’s a list of some of the activities that my kids do with their gadgets:
- Playing minecraft – often online with friends who live further away and can’t come around regularly for playdates (except I’m not allowed to call them that now. They come hang out!)
- Taking photographs and videos, editing the footage and creating short films to upload to YouTube
- Using photo editing software to create fashion memes, and posting to Instagram
- Listening to audio books
- Reading eBooks
- Communicating with friends who live abroad via Instagram and Facetime
- Watching YouTube videos on everything that you can think of – make up tutorials, science experiments, recipes, video game walk-throughs … even yoga and meditation!
- Researching topics that interest them, via google or YouTube
- Playing games and apps on a variety of gadgets – often together with other members of the family
There’s an App For That!
It is however important not to get caught in the trap of believing that ‘there’s an app for that!’ in every situation. Sometimes you need to sit down with your child and discuss the problem with maths that he is having, and try to help, instead of reaching for your iPad to research educational apps.
Our kids need our time much more than they need access to our iTunes account.
39% of kids thought that their parents spent too much time on their gadgets. 44% of kids surveyed were looking forward to spending more time with their family and playing outdoors during the summer holidays.
Excessive Screen Time
When my kids were little, ‘excessive screen time’ meant something very different. It meant plonking a child in front of the TV, a one-directional broadcasting medium that required little if any response. Even then, there were days where we used the ‘electronic babysitter’ more than we felt truly comfortable with. We balanced these days with afternoons in the park, and days at the beach, and that is exactly what most parents do now.
This article talks about the effects of increased screen time, and makes this excellent point
To judge what impact TV has on children, we have to think about tradeoffs — what would kids be doing with their time if they weren’t watching television? There are 24 hours in a day. If your kid watches one less hour of TV, she does one hour more of something else. The AAP guidelines imply that this alternative activity is something more enriching: reading books with dad, running on the track, discussing current events with grandma, etc.
But a lot of kids and families may not use an additional hour in these ways. An hour of TV may be replaced by an hour of sitting around doing nothing, whining about being bored. Or, worse, being yelled at by an overtired parent who is trying to get dinner ready on a tight time frame. If letting your kids watch an hour of TV means you are better able to have a relaxed conversation at the dinner table, this could mean TV isn’t that bad for cognitive development.
Put Down Your Phone!
“Nearly half [of children surveyed] (46 per cent) think [their parents] spend more time online or watching TV than chatting with their family and 39 per cent believe their parents or carers spend too much time on gadgets. For 15 per cent of these younger children, this makes them feel sad”, according to the Startrite study.
Do we really spend so much more time online or watching TV? Probably, but this is partly due to busy lives, often both parents working, homework to be supervised, meal to be cooked, and then finally collapsing on the couch. I suspect most parents would love to have time to sit and chat with their kids for an hour after school, but just don’t have the time.
Still, 39% is quite a high proportion of kids who think that their parents are spending too much time online, so it is worth looking at your internet usage, and how you respond to your children. It may be that the kids aren’t really bothered about how much time you spend online, but would like your full attention when they speak to you. It can feel quite dismissive and hurtful for children to have the impression that their parents’ Facebook friends are more interesting and engaging. Even if they are telling a long and involved story about a recent adventure on Minecraft, put down the phone and listen to them!
The Digital Future
75% of the boys surveyed liked the idea of working with new technology when they grow up, with 53% of girls saying the same. That did make me wonder how the question was phrased, because I can’t think of a future profession that doesn’t in some way engage with technology.
We have to Future Proof our kids, and ensure they are not left behind. My daughter is already a dab hand at video editing – and both kids are better at using PowerPoint than I am. These are hard skills, that will help them in their future skills. Similarly, young people who are already well-versed in using social media, have an advantage over other applicants for jobs or college courses.
I don’t believe in demonising technology, or in blaming parents for the ills of society, which sadly is often the tack the media take when reporting on surveys like this. Or the scare-mongering stories of neglected children designed to make parents feel guilty.
We should encourage parents to get out of the house, turn off the phone and engage with their children, but without making them feel bad about allowing technology to have a place in their children’s lives.