WE LIVE in a Britain – or a ‘developed country’ – where many fears and anxieties are circulated by the day, one after the other and reinforced by the social media and the mass media (the former still heavily influenced by the latter). Many of these fears such as whether or not burned toast gives you cancer (that ‘meme’ came and went a few months ago) may seem more than offensive to those in the ‘rich countries’ whose fears are more about paying the rent or feeding the family, and those living under terror systems of war and tyranny or starvation.
Do we worry too much about our children? Do we worry, in particular, too much about their use of social media and the internet? Probably the answer is ”Yes’ which is not at all the same as saying we should not have genuine concerns at all. By and large, the news media have always favoured hyperbole, exaggeration and sensationalism. Why? Because we like it. So, are the claims about negative impacts on young people by the digital media to be swallowed whole?
For instance, an article called Electronic Screen Syndrome: An Unrecognized Disorder? written by a doctor makes some startling claims about the deleterious effects of ‘screen time’. She actually proposes a new diagnosis called Electronic Screen Syndrome. This is fairly typical of many articles flooding the electronic and print media about how parents and others should be very very worried about what the social media and internet are ‘doing’ to kids. Unsurprisingly then, in the USA (and China and Japan) there has been a growing provision of private ‘digital detox’ clinics, retreats and counselling. The Independent reports:
Children refusing to put down their phones is a common flashpoint in many homes, with a third of British children aged 12 to 15 admitting they do not have a good balance between screen time and other activities.
But in the US, the problem has become so severe for some families that children as young as 13 are being treated for digital technology addiction.
One ‘smartphone rehab’ centre near Seattle has started offering residential “intensive recovery programs” for teenagers who have trouble controlling their use of electronic devices.
The Young Health Movement , a development from The Royal Society for Public Health
have produced a report called #StatusofMind Their summary page about social media and mental health contains the following infographic:
and this interesting video .
Here’s another – one of thousands that could be chosen about the dangers of handheld devices in general:
Kids Who Use Smartphones Start Talking Later
Growing evidence suggests that screen time may have some negative consequences for young children’s development.
In a new study of nearly 900 children between six months and two years old, researchers found that those who spent more time using handheld devices were more likely to have delays in expressive speech, compared to children who didn’t use the devices as much. For every 30 minutes of screen time, there was a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay. The research, which was led by pediatricians at the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, was presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.
This post could go on and on but you get the picture. Behind the scenes in Academia more and more research is going on. As is usually the case media reporting of studies may be very hyperbolic. In reality there’s a consensus that one study on its own does not mean much, and that there are no agreed, watertight findings about children and the internet. Nevertheless we do well to be vigilant. Just on an everyday basis, for instance, if parents are texting or whatever in the family home rather than engaged in conversation, what do kids learn?
There are many specific dangers well addressed by specialist sites relating to such things as pornography, bullying, grooming and generally inappropriate and/or exploitative content. It’s very much relevant to add to the list online gambling. Research from Queen Mary Univeristy of London states that researchers point to recent statistics from an international research review which suggest that 77 to 83 per cent of adolescents are involved in some kind of gambling, and 10 to 15 per cent of adolescents are at risk of developing serious gambling problems.
A therapist writes in an important article in The Guardian that Suddenly, and scarily, the threats are revealed. The rise in digital addiction is stark: 23% of teenage boys gamble online; indeed, teenagers are more likely to gamble than they are to smoke or do drugs
Interestingly, she points out what many addiction experts and addicts themselves know as certain, that gambling addiction whether through digital devices or not serves in part to soothe distress and tensions, anxieties, to self-medicate for stress, to escape from the real world of problesm and unhappiness to an empowered virtual world. And adults do just the same. Kids learn, are socialised by the people around them so:
What is possible is teaching children emotional intelligence: how to normalise uncomfortable feelings and manage them. We need to practise what we preach and provide good examples for them. Rushing in, stressed from work, we can choose not to pick up our tablet to self-sooth. Rather, why not take a walk in the park with our children and talk about how our stress reduces as a result?
It’s not easy being a parent and it’s just got harder.
So in conclusion, we have to recognise that some of the concerns about social media and children are exaggerated, and we should also recognise the great potential benefits of digital communication, the digital world isn’t going to go away. We need to be aware, to learn and to admit this new strand into our capacities for nurturing the development and growth of young people.