This is the question I was asked to comment on this morning for BBC Three Counties Radio and it's an interesting topic question, however it's not quite as simple or clear cut as that.
My personal views are that there appears to be no middle ground (from my experience and what I can see) on how parents are teaching their children to master their digital usage. It has to start with education of the parent first to enable them to set clear boundaries and also so they can set the right example for their children. No point waxing lyrical about how they should get off that 'damn phone or tablet' or 'look at me when I am talking to you' when as their parent all they can see is your forehead!
It's quite interesting how little some parents know about the potential health implications for their children over the long-term of using devices outside of the US safety guidelines. I think it's disgraceful that the UK has no safety guidelines around screen time limits at present, this needs to change. Something definitely needs to be done about that. Taiwan has made parents legally obliged to monitor their children's screen usage or be hit with a hefty fine. Taiwan has even listed electronic products alongside alcohol and cigarettes as potentially dangerous vices. What does that tell you? This S**T is about to get real!
America's guidelines (from the American Academy of Paediatrics) clearly state that children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one to two hours per day and it should be high-quality content.
The UK really needs to 'get with the programme' and introduce safety guidelines and make information and support available to help parents. It isn't just 'surface' issues like a child not getting enough fresh air or not sleeping well a few nights a week due to being on-line, it has much deeper repercussions than that further down the line. I firmly believe society will be pushed into a health epidemic amongst the digital native generations, physiotherapists and chiropractors are already seeing an increase of primary school aged children coming in with neck and back problems.
It may be a bit far-sighted of me but what will happen to the NHS when they become burdened with the potential ill health effects caused by technology overuse? It will pose an interesting debate seeing as some already believe that the NHS should charge for self-inflicted injuries such as smoking, alcohol abuse or over eating why should the NHS treat these cases for free. Could the same be said for people that are making themselves ill by being on-line for too long? Should the NHS offer free physiotherapy and osteopathy to correct the damage done to the cervical spine? It will be interesting to see how this all transpires 10 or so years from now.
Asked by the radio presenter this morning 'how is it different from adults sitting at a screen all day?' well my answer is, as adults we can make an informed choice as to whether we want to listen to our body telling us it's suffering due to daily technology overuse or not. For children, it's not so easy to spot. They may not be aware of what's wrong and push through the niggles, the headaches, the neck ache and blurred vision etc. I strongly believe it's our duty as parents to teach our children healthy digital habits so as their bodies are developing, they stand the best chance possible of being physically, mentally and emotionally healthy and balanced.
I am fully aware and understand that each time my kids use a device to play a game or use it for something they want they are stimulating the pleasure centres in their brains, I also understand that they are getting 'dopamine' hits each time they get a reward in a game or engage on-line in a way that they feel they are achieving something. Armed with awareness and understanding of how technology interacts with the brain and body, I can build rules and boundaries for my children that protect them from over exposure.
For me, there is no blame, it's not as simple as posing a question 'Are parents lazy or moving with the times by giving their kids an iPad?' and it's most certainly not about being judgmental. There will always be times when it's easier to give in especially in our modern society which I think it's fair to say, pretty much every parent struggles the best they can through each day as they constantly fight fatigue, feel ever more pressurised alongside a never ending list of things to do to keep family life simply ticking over. Hell yeah, sometimes it is easier to give your child an iPad so you can get some chores done or pacify a child throwing an iPaddy!
Technology isn't the enemy and should be viewed as simply a tool, it has huge plus points and the key I believe, is to understand the impact it can have in the mid to long term and build a plan on how you as a parent want technology to fit in with your family values and family unit.