Children and Social Media (3)

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Do we worry too much about children and the internet, social media especially?

Clearly, there are dangers. Many web-based organisations offer information and support regarding obvious ones such as the risks of disclosing information, predators, bullying, sexting and so on. Then there are worries about children spending too much time in front of screens, and possible cognitive damage and other mental health issues. These sorts of worries are also addressed in schools.

There are particular issues aroud games such as this one which, like some of social media, create great anxiety about body image. Then there are games which may encourage online gambling: the line between fun and monetary gaming is very blurred.

It’s worth bearing in mind some context. New technologies always elicit fears. Socrates worried that the written word was harmful! When printing arrived it caused near meltdown in the Church which wanted to keep a monopoly of reading and writing. Governments taxed radical newspapers, worried about the spread of ‘dangerous ideas’. In Victorian times, the Penny Dreadful comics – full of crime and ‘immoral’ tales – caused widespread condemnation. Remember too that novel reading was once considered morally dangerous. Film created dire warnings of moral collapse, as did television. Then there was video and the ‘video nasties’ corrupting youth. Even today some pastors talk of rock and roll as ‘the devil’s music’ and so on.

Perhaps we need a ‘middle way’.

Sonia Livingstone, who has been researching families and technology for nearly three decades, says that families are getting whipsawed by  “polarized” advice.

And the media, as well as other authorities, are to blame for concentrating on the negative effects of screens on kids without differentiating between potential risks and actual harms, or correlations and cause, and for not talking enough about what constructive role parents can play other than yanking the plug.

“Parents are panicked by the messages about the dangers of the Internet,” Livingstone says. “Messages are coming from very scattered sources and reaching parents in garbled forms. If they look for official advice, they tend to find 10 ways to say, ‘Don’t,’ but no ways to say ‘Do.’ “

“Parents are panicked by the messages about the dangers of the Internet,” Livingstone says. “Messages are coming from very scattered sources and reaching parents in garbled forms. If they look for official advice, they tend to find 10 ways to say, ‘Don’t,’ but no ways to say ‘Do.’ “

Livingstone and colleagues took a particular interest in ‘screentime rules’ and the fears that kids spend too much time in fron to screens:

What worried us was that parents seemed to use these rules as a rod with which to beat themselves, worrying how much was too much, whether family TV time or homework ‘counts’ as screen time, or feeling guilty or inadequate as parents when their children watched ‘too much’. Yet, such rules just didn’t seem realistic in this ‘digital age’ when homework, shopping, Skyping with grandparents elsewhere or fathers working away from home.

So, we scoured the internet, and wrote to experts, to discover what advice is being given to parents. We uncovered quite a hodgepodge of advice, not always evidence-based, generally negative in intending to reduce exposure to ‘harmful’ media, and remarkably little of it able to recognize that parents are acquiring digital media at home to enable positive benefits for their children and, furthermore, they are often quite skilled in understanding it, not always being the ‘digital immigrants’ of old. Too much implies comfortable middle-class homes and fails to recognize the constraints or challenges parents often face.

Young people – digital natives – do develop not only skills but understanding. Their interaction with screens is an aspect, a part of their general development as human beings. Almost certainly, the best jobs in the near future will involve such an integration of digital experience with all other educational and human development.

On a very positive note, Mike Crowley writes:

Young people these days are wiser than they are frequently given credit for. According to the age-old generational view, however, our young people are out of control and technology is largely to blame. The reality is that schools today deal with issues pertaining to social choices and interactions that can sometimes be misinterpreted as “technology problems”. The popular view — propagated by some scaremongering media sources — is that inappropriate technology use is rampant among today’s youth. The evidence, however, confirms a very different reality. According to Yalda Uhls:

“We may finally be at a tipping point, one we have seen with every introduction of new media. New data from respected social scientists around the world continues to demonstrate that children are adapting and sometimes thriving as they embrace 21st-century media; these small and incremental changes may be building to permanent change. Perhaps now the hysteria will finally come to an end.”

We’ll be looking at the concept of digital literacy later on. Suffice it to say here that this involves a large spectrum from basic skills and safety right through to deep understanding of  digital production, design and control; then an appreciation of the ways in which digital technology shapes culture, society and politics. To reach the grandiose higher levels, young people will need an education geared to that.

 

Gambling – a game for children?

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We’ll be regularly updating news about gambling and children. Without wishing to exaggerate and add unnecessary fears for parents, there is no doubt that online gambling does offer risks to young people.

The machine showed above would only be found in a bookmakers for 18 year old above. Yet it’s interesting that the’games’ are very similar to games for children. With the spread off advertising, more and more opportunities for online gambling it is something to watch out for. We’ll look at the risks in more detail but it’s worth bearing in mind for now that studies have shown many thousands of children under the age of 15 who already are nearing the line of problem gambling and many who have crossed it.

Why we’re hooked

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There is a plethora of books, internet posts, academic papers, videos, newspaper and magazine articles about our use of digital devices being addictive. Among the several really good books to appear recently is Irresistible: Why We can’t stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching by Adam Alter, reviewed here.

Among concerns raised by many are:

  • Do these ‘addictions’ have an effect on mental health? Some answers debate whether over-use is a sign or a cause of depression, for instance.
  • Is our mind itself being altered – in how we think, our cognition? Is the brain being rewired as digital machines become extensions of our nervous systems?
  • Does digital addiction anaethetise us, make us docile and passive?
  • What bad effects may there be on child development?
  • Are our real relationships suffering?
  • Do parents bear a great responsibility for how they use digital devices in front of children – for instance at the dinner table?

The list is probably endless. Here are some recent examples of such worries.

Parents’ phone addiction may lead to child behavioural problems
at NHS Choices

Children as young as 13 attending ‘smartphone rehab’ as concerns grow over screen time The Independent

In Wired comes the following:

In late 2010, Steve Jobs told New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children had never used the iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.”

Bilton discovered that other tech giants imposed similar restrictions. Chris Anderson, the former editor of WIRED, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, “because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.” His five children were never allowed to use screens in their bedrooms. Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, bought hundreds of books for his two young sons, but refused to give them an iPad. And Lesley Gold, the founder of an analytics company, imposed a strict no-screen-time-during-the-week rule on her kids. She softened her stance only when they needed computers for schoolwork.

This is unsettling. Why are the world’s greatest public technocrats also its greatest private technophobes? It seemed as if they were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own supply.

Of course, many of these stark warnings have been tempered by other views. It’s important to examine ‘the good, the bad and the grey’ mentioned in a previous post. But it’s an issue that deserves our full attention.

Children and Social Media (1)

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Not surprisingly, there are many websites from organisations advising parents and those who work with children of the dangers (and advantages) of digital interaction, especially social media. There are dire warnings such as this one reported in The Times in April 2017 claiming that research shows that the more children use social media the less happy they are. However, even within the report, we find that the picture is not so clear cut. And this was a reference to just one study.

Another article by a sociologist discusses the role of parents and social media. Are they ‘using; the kids to increase their own ‘likes’ and popularity?

Self-doubts are part of walking along any challenging, unknown territory, but in the continuous over-sharing and relentless comparison culture of social media—where parents post report cards when their child scores high, the hand-painted greeting card received on Father’s Day, or the picture their 7-year-old took of them on their wedding anniversary—people are just exposing their soft spots and self-doubting capacities, worrying about whether their parenting is “perfect” or “better.”

Now, talking of ‘likes’, who doesn’t like to be liked? One of the most basic needs of the social animals we are is to be accepted by the group or tribe. For those with little confidence in themselves as a source of happiness (what Maslow called self-actualisation) being popular in a group is a great substitute. Group membership, being ‘liked’ while reinforcing the boundaries of the group belonging by ‘othering’ outsiders, baddies, weirdos etc. is a great way to feel wanted. Social media like Facebook provide excellent shortcuts for those who need such affirmation of their worth. Most adults probably are confident enough in the real world. It’s what we call, or used to call, maturity. But children are much more vulnerable to not being liked. Every parent has witnessed a growing kid in tears because their best friend doesn’t like them any more or ‘nobody likes me’. More seriously, kids can be cruel and even in mundane ways ostracise other children who can then feel lonely, worthless – because their sense of ‘worth’ depends on the liking from their peers as well as their family.

While we are all aware of the dangers of onlike bullying, ridicule, name-calling, etc from peers, and the far more sinister dangers from adults, it’s worth remembering too that a growing person in a world where much social interaction takes place online is very dependent upon feedback. When a child now declares sadly that ‘nobody likes me’, they are using ‘like’ in a relatively new way.

Remember too, that millions of children either through poverty or parental prohibition do not use social media. It’s interesting that the article about social media and unhappiness above slips in the observation that kids who use an hour or so of social media each day are happier when it comes to friendship. Is this because what constitutes friendship has been refined by social media?

There are lots of questions around these issues, lots of possible answers, lots of research, lots of interpretations and opinions. One thing’s for sure, though, it’s an area we need to take seriously.