Screen Time and Children’s Well being

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers are now officially advising parents to ban their children from using phones and other electronic devices in their bedrooms and during meal times. These are two out of nine specific recommendations made in a recent official report entitled:

Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing: a systematic map of reviews.

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NB – for students of A-level sociology this is great example of an official government document, a form of secondary qualitative data!

It’s also a great example of an amazing ‘literature review’… they go through a stack of evidence on social media/ screen time/ internet use effects and ask lots of methods questions about each piece of research to determine whether or not those studies are high/ middle or low quality.

Interestingly the report said that there wasn’t enough available evidence to issue any guidelines on the total amount of time children should spend online or using screens in any one day or week, but that there was sufficient evidence to suggest limiting uses in specific contexts when using them can upset other beneficial activities.

Hence why the report recommends that parents limit their children’s use of phones at the following times:

  • At bedtimes
  • During mealtimes
  • While crossing the road.

The report also highlighted the fact that parents shouldn’t just assume that their children would be happy with them posting lots of pictures of them online and criticised some parents for ‘oversharing’.

Interestingly the report also highlighted the lack of high quality research into the impact of screen time, and stressed that more research was needed and they called on tech companies to share data to aid research.

Finally, the report also recommended that social media platforms and technology companies  sign up to a voluntary code of conduct to protect children online, and hinted at possibly introducing new laws to protect children online.

Relevance to A level sociology

Firstly, the report seems to suggest there is some evidence that increased screen time has made childhood more ‘toxic’, because using them is proven to disrupt beneficial activities such as sleep and conversation during meal times.

The report seems to be saying the government is powerless to do anything to prevent Corporations from carrying on with their deliberate attempts to get children to spend more time on screens, merely suggesting that they might sign up to a voluntary code of conduct. So this demonstrates the might of the tech TNCs and the weakness of the Nation State.

Instead, the report focuses on ‘lifeworld’ or ‘privatised solutions to public problems’ – in other words, it’s down to the individual parents to regulate their children’s use of screens.

The report also makes it clear that we cannot say ‘a certain amount of screen time is bad’ – there isn’t evidence to back up a particular figure. This isn’t surprising given that there are different ways we can use our screens, so the idea that ‘screen time’ in general is going to be good or bad is maybe a bit ridiculous!

Finally, this is a good example of a late modern response rather than a postmodern response to a social problem – the report doesn’t just say ‘we’re uncertain, do what you like’, it says ‘there is some evidence that specific uses of screens at particular times prevent beneficial activities taking place, thus you should do x/y/z… i.e. we still have valid knowledge and a clear path of action even in the midst of uncertainty!

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