Smartphones and tablets have a lot of value for kids, both with social interaction and educational apps and experiences. The summer holidays can mean even more time spent staring at screens, so parents need to ensure their children get a break and spend time doing other activities.
It's easy for parents to rely on tablets and smartphones to keep kids entertained on long journeys or just to give themselves a break, but excessive screen time can put a serious limit on conversation with family and engagement with their environment
An article in the Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests a child born today will spend the equivalent of an entire year looking at screens by the time they reach the age of seven.
For parents it can be difficult to resist the use of these devices as nannies to keep children constantly occupied, but this can lead to problems. Excessive use can contribute to physical problems such as obesity and lack of exercise, but also increases the risk of exposure to cyber bullying.
Peer pressure and social media
Children are still trying to establish their identity as they grow up, and they often haven't developed sufficient emotional skills to cope with online interaction. Peer pressure and can be very difficult to deal with, and it's even more potent on the relentless and global scale of social media.
The problem is that many teenagers use social media as their main source of affirmation and reassurance, and can end up suffering from a myriad of self-esteem issues when they face criticism or humiliation.
The dangers of cyber bullying
'Cyber bullying' is not a term many teenagers would apply to the way they behave online, but many can casually post hurtful or humiliating things without realising the impact they are having. They only see their computer screen in front of them, not their target's facial expression or body language. Posting a hurtful comment can be an impulsive act, and they might not imagine how strong an effect it can have on children and teenagers already suffering from self-esteem issues or symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Parents should be addressing the issue of cyber bullying with their kids at around the ages of 7 or 8, helping them to understand the benefits and dangers of social media. Set some boundaries of what is and what isn't acceptable behaviour online, just as with any other activity or environment, so ensure they know what information is private and personal, and what can be shared.
Younger children can often be more receptive than teenagers, so it's a good time to start talking to them. A car journey is an excellent opportunity as you have their undivided attention - so long as they put their phones down!
My advice for children
- Think about what you're saying and who will read it before posting.
- Don't 'like' friends' posts that are unkind or hurtful to others.
- Don't worry about the number of 'likes' you get - it's meaningless.
- If something or someone is upsetting you on social media, turn it off or block them.
- If social media is causing you to get upset or distressed, tell and adult you trust.
- Always value interaction with your friends in real life over what you get up to on social media.
- Only interact with friends you know, never strangers who approach you online.