Reporting on recent research presented by EPI makes the claim that screen time restrictions do not really protect children from the potential dangers of social media. As is so often the case though, the headline is bold, but the whole story much more nuanced. The research really highlights the need for children to have a good set of digital skills and resilience of character in order to navigate the modern world. There’s still a strong case to be made for setting daily screen time limits though.
Screen time benefits
The main thrust of the analysis is that by placing restrictions on internet usage, parents prevent their kids from gaining digital skills vital to modern life. It also highlights the idea that kids need to face the risks of social media themselves rather than be protected from them. In this way they supposedly learn to manage such risks themselves, with potential knock on effects managing offline problems and challenges too.
Too much screen time
The research does recognise however that the issue is more complicated than simply whether or not to restrict screen time. It notes that over a third of British teenagers are “extreme internet users” spending over 6 hours online on weekend days and over 3 hours a day online on school days. It also highlights the correlation between high levels of social network use and symptoms of mental health problems including anxiety and depression.
The role of daily limits
Despite (and in part because of) the conclusions of this research, I still feel that daily screen time limits are a much needed tool in the parenting arsenal. The building of a strong digital skill set in our kids is important. But it’s also important that they find time for physical activity, real life socialisation and appropriate amounts of sleep. 7 in 10 young people claim to have missed out on sleep due to internet usage. The majority of them also noted that this affected their school work. Setting daily usage limits on screen time (as well as scheduled bedtimes etc.) can help them achieve an appropriate balance.
Parental controls always need to be used intentionally. What do I mean by that? They need to be part of a wider strategy for growing resilient kids, not a reactive punishment or a means of manipulation.
Yes, kids need to develop mechanisms for handling online challenges on their own. But that doesn’t have to mean allowing them unfettered access to whatever they want, whenever they want. This is not a new parenting problem; there has always been a debate over the appropriate balance between protecting our kids and allowing them to make their own mistakes. The right answer for your family will depend in part on your own parenting style and beliefs and in part on the maturity and resilience of your kids.
Of course, we know that once they reach adulthood (or more likely their later teenage years), parental controls will cease to be an option. We need to make sure that before that point they are ready to meet the challenges of the digital world head on. At Kidslox, we see that for many families (including our own) that involves setting boundaries on our kids technology use. These are then gradually revised and removed as our children grow in maturity and technological and social prowess.