Parenting in a Digital Age - Digital Literacy Dover

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Parenting in a Digital Age

Frame conversations around three approaches to media: 

control: media bias (base your control on facts not myths), experts, parental controls, software, etc

negotiate - ratings, time, balance… role modelling these

affect = mood, disposition, violence, ‘addiction’ 

Don’t panic!

“In 1922, 6,000 radios were owned by the American public; this number grew to 1.5 million by 1923, 17 million by 1932, and 44 million by 1940 (Dennis, 1998). In 1936, about nine in 10 New York households owned a household radio, and children in these homes spent between 1 and 3 hr a day listening to these devices (Dennis, 1998). This rapid rise in popularity sparked concerns.

A New York Times piece considered whether listening to the radio too much would harm children and lead to illnesses because the body needed “repose” and could not “be kept up at the jazz rate forever” (Ferrari, as cited in Dennis, 1998). Concerns voiced by the Director of the Child Study Association of America noted how radio was worse than any media that came before because “no locks will keep this intruder out, nor can parents shift their children away from it” (Gruenberg, 1935).

In recent decades, concerns about the effects of radio on young people have practically disappeared—but societal concerns about emergent technologies have definitely not done so.

Although previous parents' fears of radio addiction might seem amusing now, contemporary concerns about smart-phones, online games, and social media are shaping and influencing policy around the world.

The similarity between concerns about the radio and social media provides a striking reminder that in every decade, new technologies enter human lives and that in their wake there will arrive widespread concerns about their effects on the most vulnerable in society."

Orben, A. (2020). The Sisyphean cycle of technology panics. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(5), 1143-1157.

Screen time is just time 

> work/homework, reading, viewing, meeting/conversing, messaging, gaming

Four main categories of screen time.

  1. Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music 
  2. Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  3. Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  4. Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music

(The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens] 

What if we swapped the phones for books? Why is that okay?

Beware media bias 

> Not all screens are the same: phone, tablet, e-reader, laptop, desktop, TV, game console

> Consumption v creation: one huge difference between devices is the capacity for creation/interaction, especially during holidays encouraging creative use, again model this... 

Practice what you preach 

‘hours per day’ is not necessarily a helpful metric, but parents generally exceed child use by a rate of double to three times (9 hours v 3) 

Model appropriate use, eg at the dinner table, receiving messages during conversation, sleeping with your device, headphones in a social space, use before sleep... 

Device management 

  • Children are not adults, less self control, so possibly more guidance needed 
  • Beware of privacy, just because everyone can use their own screen doesn’t mean your child should, eg daily/regular family screen time. Maybe the family TV is a better solution? 
  • Parental controls - sometimes necessary, but don’t rely on these long term
  • avoid an adversarial solution that pits child against parents, responsible use is the goal
  • be realistic about the amount of time you allow, and what that time is being used for:

Maybe apportion screen time in different ways? 

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music 
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  • Creation: using devices to make digital art or music


Screen time - Summary of Expert Advice 

Video Games & Violence

Device control and internet filters 

Creative Screen use at home

Creative Apps for iPads

Parental Video Gaming Advice Summarised 

Screen time Diigo reading list (>80 articles) 

Expert Advice




Assumptions about restricting screen time

"While parents and caregivers may think they are protecting their children by restricting the time spent on digital technology, this may not be the case.

Common measures to restrict internet use – by governments, businesses, parents and others – usually take the form of parental controls, content blocking and internet filters. While well meaning, these are not always well designed to achieve their desired purpose and may even create unintended negative effects. For example, such restrictions can cut adolescents, especially, off from their social circles, from access to information and from the relaxation and learning that come from play. Tension around these restrictions can also damage trust between parents and children. And extreme restrictions can hold children back from developing the digital literacy skills needed to critically evaluate information and communicate safely, responsibly and effectively through digital technology – skills they will need for their future.

Without consensus on screen time, it is important for parents, policymakers, researchers and the media not to jump to conclusions about what is healthy or unhealthy digital use. Considering the full context of a child's life – together with an emphasis on content and experiences rather than screen time – may prove more useful for understanding the effects of digital connectivity on children's well-being.

A common assumption is that time spent online will detract from other activities thought to be more valuable, such as face-to-face socializing, reading books or exercising. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘displacement theory' (discussed later in this chapter). While this assumption originally received support and served to inform policy statements, such as the former digital media guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more recent evidence suggests it might be simplistic or even inaccurate. One reason for this shift is the growing recognition that digital technologies offer many opportunities for children to pursue developmentally valuable activities, and these opportunities are both increasing and improving. 

Recent research suggests that youth seem quite resilient to screen consumption at higher levels – up to six hours daily – more than is typically recommended by most policy statements."  (Peersman, Claudia, et al., 2016)

Screen Time: Not too little, not too much

"Despite concerns, mainly among parents and educators, regarding the effects of extensive screen time (see section: The debate over digital dependency), a recent large-scale cross-sectional study of more than 120,000 15-year-olds in the United Kingdom found that the time children spent using digital tech had only a negligible impact. This study, which controlled for gender, ethnicity and economic factors, included watching TV and movies, playing video games, using computers and using smartphones. The activities differed somewhat in their respective impacts, but the authors conclude that, in general, no use at all was associated with lower mental well-being, while moderate use (between approximately two and five hours per day, depending on the activity) seemed to have a small positive effect on mental well-being." (Przybylski and Weinstein)


"...physical inactivity is unlikely to be a direct consequence of adolescents spending too much time on screen-based activities.

Some studies suggest that online activity and physical activity may be more independent of one another than they seem. 

children are not forgoing physical activity because they want to go online. Instead, they may be going online because they are already physically inactive, for a variety of reasons. (Melkevik) Or they may be less physically active, and also go online, as two separate outcomes... 

...interventions targeting screen time alone are unlikely to significantly increase time spent on physical activity." (Iannotti, Ronald J., et al. 2009)

Instead of asking “How does screen time affect physical activity?,” perhaps the right question is “Are children leading lives where they can get a healthy, balanced amount of activity for optimal growth and well-being?” Promoting physical activity and a healthy diet might prove a better strategy than merely reducing screen time. 

Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate

"Human nature is the problem, but human nature is also the solution."

"Maybe technology is not the problem. Maybe it’s just down to human behaviour. Consider again the parents of young children who worry about screen time but put their toddlers in front of an iPad for hours on end and then blame the technology. Consider the fact that teenagers have been locking themselves up in their rooms, avoiding talking to their parents and responding only with barely audible grunts to ‘how was school today?’ for, probably, centuries. Screens didn’t cause any of this. From this perspective, the mere existence of screens contributes to this problem in the same way that cars contribute to crashes. That’s right, car crashes wouldn’t happen if there weren’t any cars, but it is the person in control behind the wheel who causes them, not the car.

Not all screen time is equal – Shooting Azimuths

Fear mongering 

From time to time, doom laden missives like this get circulated amongst parents:

10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 

We need to stop talking about the notion of screen time. All screens are not equal. A TV is different from a computer, and they are both different from a touchscreen tablet. Putting all of them in the same category is dishonest and simplistic. Screens are merely a way of visualising experiences of a wide variety of categories. They are bearers of media—they are not media in themselves. Thus, they cannot categorically be defined as good, bad or neutral. For instance, no reasonable person would say that all computers are bad in the workplace. There may be good or bad uses of a computer, but the computer itself is neither. It’s just there—as an instrument, or a bearer of media.

Secondly, there is a big difference between watching something and interacting with it. The interactive component changes everything when it comes to creating new experiences for kids. Being engaged and actively participating in something—with feedback, collaboration, imagination and creativity—is a completely different experience from viewing a passive narrative. There can be a time and a place for both, but they are by no means the same thing.

iPads – A Tool, Not Alchemy, for Education

Screen time in the Early Years...

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its policy on very young children and media. In 1999, the group had discouraged television viewing for children younger than 2, citing research on brain development that showed this age group’s critical need for “direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers.” The updated report began by acknowledging that things had changed significantly since then. In 2006, 90 percent of parents said that their children younger than 2 consumed some form of electronic media. Nonetheless, the group took largely the same approach it did in 1999, uniformly discouraging passive media use, on any type of screen, for these kids. (For older children, the academy noted, “high-quality programs” could have “educational benefits.”) The 2011 report mentioned “smart cell phone” and “new screen” technologies, but did not address interactive apps. Nor did it broach the possibility that has likely occurred to those 90 percent of American parents, queasy though they might be: that some good might come from those little swiping fingers.

The Touch-Screen Generation

American Academy of Pediatrics Guidance (AAP)

"In a world where “screen time” is becoming simply “time,” our policies must evolve or become obsolete. The public needs to know that the Academy's advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle

Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects.

Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer."

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)

"The evidence base for a direct ‘toxic’ effect of screen time is contested, and the evidence of harm is often overstated. The majority of the literature that does exist looks only at television screen time.

Evidence is weak for a threshold to guide children and parents to the appropriate level of screen time, and we are unable to recommend a cut-off for children's screen time overall.

Many of the apparent connections between screen time and adverse effects may be mediated by lost opportunities for positive activities (socialising, exercise, sleep) that are displaced by screen time.

There is a little evidence that any specific intervention can be applied across the population to reduce screen time. We have developed four key questions for families to use as a guide to examine their screen time:

  • Is screen time in your household controlled?
  • Does screen use interfere with what your family wants to do?
  • Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  • Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

If a family can ask themselves (or be asked by others) these questions, and are satisfied with the answers, then they can be reassured that they are likely to be doing as well as they can with this tricky issue.

Not all screens are equal, and guidelines need to be updated to reflect these differences.

A family doctor’s rules for toddlers and screen time 

...healthy, age-appropriate use of media and technology, even with the youngest children, is possible.  It all depends on content and context."

Can Technology Be a Teaching Tool for Toddlers, Preschoolers? | Common Sense Education

Lumping all screens into one category is not helpful. "Screen time is a really enticing measure because it's simple – it's usually described as the number of hours a day using screen-based technology. But it's completely meaningless," says Pete Etchells at Bath Spa University, UK, who studies the effects of video games on behaviour. "It doesn't say anything about what you're using that time for.

Children benefit from the right sort of screen time

Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens

"The notion of screen time as a one-dimensional activity is changing. Computers, tablets, and smartphones are multipurpose devices that can be used for lots of purposes. Designating their use simply as "screen time" can miss some important variations. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time.

  1. Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music 
  2. Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  3. Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  4. Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music

If screen media use can mean writing a short story on a computer, video-chatting with relatives, watching videos, reading the news online, or playing games, what is the point of documenting the total amount of time teens spend using screens?"

Page 23

"Computers, tablets, and smartphones are multipurpose devices that can be used for any of these activities; designating their use simply as “screen time” can miss some important variations. So, for the first time that we are aware of, this study quantifies the time spent using these devices for different functional purposes: what we call “passive consumption,” which includes watching TV or videos, reading, or listening to music (using the word “passive” is not meant to imply that the consumer is unengaged); “interactive consumption,” which includes playing games and browsing the Internet; “communication,” which includes video-chatting and using social media; and “content creation,” which includes writing or creating digital art or music."

Eye Problems?

Thankfully, studies conducted thus far haven’t attributed long-term vision problems to screen usage as a kid. Mark S. Borchert, MD, director of both the Eye Birth Defects and Eye Technology Institutes in The Vision Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, states, “Multiple large population-based epidemiologic studies suggest that screen time does not affect the predisposition for glasses. At least 90% of the risk for needing glasses is genetic.” — How to protect your kids' eyes and ears from too much screen time

Let the kids have recreational screen time of at least an hour a day, why?

168 hours in a week (7 x 24)

- 64 (7 x 9 hours sleep)

7 x 24 = 168 hours a week 

- 7 x 10 (sleep) 70

- 5 x 9 (school week + travel) 45

- 5 x 2 (homework/tuition) 10

- 7 x 2 (meal times) 14 

= 140 hours 

168 - 140 = 28 hours of leisure time a week - not including holidays, 4 hours a day. 

If they played one hour a day, that still leaves 3 for playing outside, creating, reading and ...? 

Key Slides from the Parent Presentation


Melkevik, ‘Is Spending Time in Screen-Based Sedentary Behaviors Associated with Less Physical Activity'.

Iannotti, Ronald J., et al., ‘Patterns of Adolescent Physical Activity, Screen-Based Media Use, and Positive and Negative Health Indicators in the U.S. and Canada', Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 44, no. 5, May 2009, pp. 493–499.

Orben, A. (2020). The Sisyphean cycle of technology panics. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(5), 1143-1157.

Peersman, Claudia, et al., ‘iCOP: Live forensics to reveal previously unknown criminal media on P2P networks', Digital Investigation, vol. 18, September 2016, pp. 50–64.

Przybylski and Weinstein, ‘A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis', pp. 209–210.

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