“Mummy, it says you don’t need to restrict screen time!”
It would seem that my 10-minute holiday luxury of putting the news on in the mornings has backfired! I thought it might be educational for the children if they wanted to watch it. They have certainly learnt something, just not necessarily what I wanted them to! Short bursts of information taken out of context and in the wrong hands can be just as damaging as no information!
The news headlines this morning do indeed announce that doctors are saying that screen time is not intrinsically bad for children. They go on to explain that the age of the child still needs to be taken into account and that exercise, social interaction and sleep are paramount to a healthy lifestyle. But it’s the head line that people of today’s society, in a hurry to get to work, organise their children or check out their latest social media update, will take in. And that headline is doing two things: firstly, it’s offering excuses for the overworked/harassed/lazy/indifferent parents amongst us to let their children stay glued to the screen for a little longer and secondly, it’s throwing the responsibility straight back at the parents, by getting rid of any medical or political support to substantiate their efforts to distract their little ones from the plasma and direct their interests elsewhere. I know the parents should be the ones to take responsibility, but sometimes it’s comforting to have a little official back up!
It is this sweeping statement that lumps all “screens” together as not being harmful that gets to me most. I would argue that not all screen activities are equal. I refuse to believe that pretending to exist on an island where the sole aim is to eliminate everyone else on said island using whatever weapon you can find is either sociable or educational, but children will argue that it is. Apparently their “building skills” are to be marvelled at – which begs the question as to whether they are aware this is virtual reality at all!
Articles about social media and the depressing effect that it has on, well, everyone really, but particularly on teenage girls, also appeared today. How can these two ideas run alongside one another. Social media appear on screens – does this not count as screen time as well? The articles point to the rise in online-bullying and lack of sleep, linked to the increase in the use of social media. It’s an unfortunate truth that we all compare ourselves with others anyway – comparing ourselves with the premeditated images that are actually intended to inspire jealousy can not be healthy, especially amongst those too young to recognise that that is what they are viewing.
It’s not what’s on the screen that is a concern necessarily (although that needs to be monitored), it’s the fact that it’s a sedentary activity with little social interaction. I say “little” because quite often there is a child on the other end of a mobile who is being interacted with to a certain extent and I know today’s teenagers will argue that that is a social activity. Fair enough. The problem is that, apart from the interaction hardly counting as a comprehensible conversation, they can choose to block these so-called friends – does that not count as online bullying as well? Is hard evidence really needed to prove that screens are bad for children?
The issue as I see it is that the notion of screen time evokes so many different ideas, some more detrimental than others. Giving parents excuses to leave their child sitting passively in front of a screen is not helpful. Giving ammunition to children to throw at their parents is totally frustrating. To quote the BBC’s headline, “Worry less about screen time”. Certainly, worry less because worrying never gets anyone anywhere. Act instead. Set boundaries. Be aware constantly. And try not to fall into the easy trap of listening to alluring headlines that tell us everything is okay when it’s not!