Are social media and screen time harming your kids?

Saturday, 12 January, 2019

On a regular basis studies arrive warning of the dangers of our kids spending too much time on their devices. The latest from a study in the journal EClinicalMedicine recommended parents cut their kids’ time spent on social media, claiming it interferes with sleep and may be linked to depression, particularly in young girls.

While this looks like a no-brainer, does it really address the issue?

There is a general consensus that we all spend too much time on our devices. And as a consequence, there is a whole cottage industry of self-help books. Books such as Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts, How to Break Up With Your Phone or You Are Not A Gadget. All unite behind the message that screen time is damaging.

This industry was compounded last year when it emerged Silicon Valley techs were banning screens from their own homes. This dark consensus found voice when an ex-Facebook employee told the New York Times that he was convinced ‘the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.’

Even Tim Cook, CEO at Apple got in on the act when he said he would not want his nephew on social media networks.

But in truth there is no scientific consensus. University College London, which conducted the latest research, didn’t actually issue guidelines on when to set limitations.

Instead, they say, setting daily limits is ‘not the right focus’. Rather parents should be thinking, ‘are you getting enough sleep, enough exercise or spending enough time with the family?’

And a 2017 Unicef report found that time spent using technology actually could lead to an improvement in well-being, particularly in the importance to friendship. And even in those who used technology excessively, the recorded negative impact was small.

What is clear is that this is a complex issue that is impacted by a number of factors – not just how long a child spends on screen. And while research is useful it is a fact that concrete evidence does not currently exist.

Instead we should reply on our own judgement on amount of time spent. Alongside the impact of other factors such as physical play, social interaction in the family as well as the social aspect benefits that technology can give our children.

Image: Lucelia Ribeiro

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.