A long awaited piece of conclusive scientific research was finally released last week by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health about the health impacts of screen time. Although what was unveiled was of no real surprise to me, it is nevertheless good to have some real data to reference.
In summary, there is no scientific evidence that damage is done from screen use.
The study did not endorse specific guidelines for parents, believing these should be left to their personal judgment. We all know how this “judgment” can vastly differ, with some parents giving mobiles to children as young as six and other preferring to wait until middle school.
Most parents, I believe, are beginning to navigate this area, combining common sense with the many resources out there, such as Apple’s screen-time app, that can help make parenting choices much easier.
There are obvious good practices, such as removing screens at least an hour before bed, no screens at meal times and not replacing activities and being outdoors with screens. It was also unsurprising there is conclusive evidence that mental health problems are worse, especially in girls, in children who use social media excessively.
there is no scientific evidence that damage is done from screen use.
But I would recommend too an article in The Times this week, by Anthony Walker, a parent of three teens who works in the tech sector and who interviewed 100 parent tech leaders. “Their message?” he wrote. “The future in technology holds enormous opportunity but we need a radically different education system to unlock it.”
People working in the tech industry, the most rapidly growing job sector in the world, have been saying this repeatedly for years. While the education system keeps relying on rote-based exams, students who are creatively exploring programming, user experience and design thinking are being offered jobs even before leaving school, often forsaking college or university.
I am not all happy-clappy about technology and have the same concerns and frustrations as most parents. However, I believe in the power of creativity, universality and equality that technology can bring us. I believe in offering children opportunities to make, design and explore, using core skills they can later transfer to future workspaces.
According to Mr Walker, nearly three-quarter of the parents interviewed felt their child’s school curriculum placed insufficient emphasis on the right kind of skills.
There is often confusion about screen time; it is wrong to simply to lump it wholesale into the “bad” corner. Screen experiences differ — think of the difference between answering your emails or writing a detailed report and playing an online game. When your children use screens for learning, or creating a virtual world, they are accessing vastly different skills and brainpower than when they scroll mindlessly through endless social media posts.
A child who creates a brilliant, complex video to explain a high-level concept will be empowered, totally engaged and as a result will experience a significant learning experience.
Creating a game about a difficult concept (such as one of the 7,000 we at Jewish Interactive have on www.JiTap.net) will result in the game creator absorbing that content, while learning essential skills that can transfer to a future job market.
The rise of artificial intelligence means the job market is radically going to change in the next decade.
Creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills are already becoming the most sought-after qualities in a candidate, as well as humanities skills like music, art, drama and expression — things a computer can never really replace. Far outweighing the ability to memorise vast amount of text, or do complex equations.
Walking the parenting technology tightrope is tricky. But if we take a balanced approach, with slow, measured steps, we will get to the other side in one piece.
Chana Kanzen is chief executive of Jewish Interactive