Parents: How to find positives in kids' obsession with technology

Children can benefit from technology.
Children can benefit from technology.

Many parents bemoan their children’s obsession with digital technology, and yearn for the ‘good old days’ when kids used to play outside and sometimes get bored.

But have you ever stopped to think that the positives of this new digital world might actually out-weigh the negatives, for both parents and children?

In their new book Parents And Digital Technology, parenting expert Suzie Hayman and psychologist John Coleman point out that as well as many perceived, and some real, threats from children becoming immersed in the digital world, there are also numerous benefits that can enhance young people’s lives.

“Part of the solution is to grasp the positives and help your children to benefit from those, while also saying, ‘These are the rules’,” says Hayman.

“We hear about the nasty side of the internet, the trolling and the bullying, but what you don’t hear about is the number of times an unhappy young person goes on a social media site and gets sympathy and suggestions on how to make it better.”

POSITIVES

Digital benefits include:

* Keeping in touch.

*Gaming: Unlike watching television, games are active and demand a response - thinking, reacting, and finding solutions. Games require skills and expertise that can have dramatically positive results in young people’s lives, says Hayman.

* Education: Digital devices can be used at school to release creativity, sustain interest and provide intellectual challenge.

* Not being able to be bored: according to the Office for National Statistics, half the number of girls under 18 become pregnant now than 25 years ago. Over the same period, consumption of illegal drugs has also halved, teenagers drink a third less alcohol, and most don’t smoke. “Why did young people drink, smoke, have sex?” asks Hayman. “Mostly, be- cause they were bored and it was either something to do or part of something to do.” However, never getting bored can also be destructive, potentially leading to young people growing up never having to use their imaginations

PERCEIVED Vs ACTUAL THREATS

* Access to pornography and violence.

* Selfies and sexting: potentially fuelling anxiety and confusion.

* Cyberbullying: a survey by the charity Family Lives found 43% of 11 to 16-year- olds had been bullied on social networks.

* Family life: parents often worry about the way social media and the internet have taken over family life.

* Health issues: these include long periods spent on devices, little exercise and increased consumption of junk food. Plus, a large study by Public Health England concluded that children who spent more than four hours a day in front of the television or a computer screen were more likely to develop anxiety or depression.

MAIN, REAL THREATS

* Addiction

* Cyberbullying

SCREEN BREAK TIME

The authors suggest limiting online time to:

• 0-2 years of age; never

• 3-5 years; no more than one hour a day

• 6-18 years; no more than two hours a day (unless for homework purposes)

RULES

Hayman and Coleman suggest general household digital rules should be:

* Everyone turns off all technology when they get home for a period, and at mealtimes.

* Meals to be eaten at a table, not from laps in front of screens.

* Don’t let screens be the only source of entertainment or knowledge - read books, enjoy other activities.

* Allow ‘check-in times’ to social media in the evening for everyone, at an agreed time, for a specific time. “Rules need to be what suits you and your family. And they need to apply to every- body in the house,” stresses Hayman.

*Parents and Digital Technology is published by Routledge, £12.99.