Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Last weekend, the UK was transformed by a beautiful, magical blanket of white snow. The interesting thing, is that not only was the landscape transformed, but our children’s behaviour was too. No longer ‘screen hermits’ in a self-imposed social exile, but rather the fun loving, sociable people they really are.
It was refreshing, to say the least and just goes to show, children have not forgotten how to play, they have simply got into bad, gaming/social media addicted habits. And it’s not their fault!!!
Addiction is strategically engineered into games and social media, with little attempt so far, by the technology companies to limit screen time. This puts parents in the unfortunate position of having to choose between:
a) Ignoring the fact that so much of the day is spent on screens by their children, after all, it gives the parents more peace and quiet.
b) Waging war against the screens by attempting to limit their use. This may involve tugs of war with laptops/phones or cutting off Wifi to the whole house.
Neither option is ideal, but I would argue that to do nothing is dangerous for two reasons. Firstly, as too much gaming/social media affects our children’s developing brains for example, reducing their ability to empathise. This can create social difficulties longer term and lead to anxiety or depression. The constant quick fire stimulation can also lead to difficulties concentrating and distractibility in the classroom (ADD). Secondly, it stops them doing what they might otherwise be doing - making friends, having fun, exploring the world around them. This too will limit their brain’s development. Lack of physical play can also lead to poor coordination, clumsiness and balance problems. Use it, or lose it, or 'neuroplasticity' is the term used by neuroscientists.
The answer? I believe a team effort between schools and parents setting clear limits and parameters around acceptable screen use is required. More important still, we need new legislation. Gaming and social media companies have grown faster than they can be regulated for. Hopefully, the beginnings of this have already commenced this week, with a motion to ban all self-harm and suicide encouraging content from social media sites.
However, this tweak to content does not begin to go far enough. As providers of highly addictive substances, Silicon Valley bosses (who do not allow their own children access to phones/laptops) ought to be required to engineer in time limits, which can be easily set by parents and teachers, across access to their sites.
Parents can then decide how much or how little they choose to allow their children access, without the need for a perpetual battle. We need to push back on these companies to protect our children. That way, we can begin to recover our hermits and make many more days feel like ‘snow days’ - even if it doesn’t snow!