April 20, 2024

How the Internet is improving the lives of our children. Yes really.

If your house is locked in battles over screen time, experts may surprise you by saying that spending a little more time online can be a good thing.

The Internet is often presented as a dangerous place for children. And in fact, Digital Parenting is full of advice for parents and caregivers on how to keep our children safe from the many undoubted dangers online.

Digital Parenting Pro promotional image showing the app on a smartphone

But there is a danger that we lose sight of the benefits that the Internet brings.

“Focusing too much on the negative and possible The risks, rather than the harmful effects, help to divert attention from the real extent of the positive day-to-day experiences that children and adolescents generally have online,” says Niamh Ní Bhroin, a researcher at the University of Oslo.

Mrs Ní Bhroin has been grappling with a conundrum.

Norwegian children and teenagers spend more time online than those in any other European country. However – surprisingly, perhaps, for parents accustomed to agonizing over the hours our children spend in front of screens – they also tend to score among the highest when it comes to their self-reported well-being.

But if screen time is not uniformly harmful to our children, what makes some use a positive influence for some children and other options harmful?

Mrs Ní Bhroin has been trying to answer this question. The analysis she performed with her colleagues (later published in New Media & Society magazine) focused on 1,001 children, ages nine to 16, who were interviewed about their lives on and off screen.

“In the survey, we asked children questions about their family, including whether and how their parents mediated their Internet use,” he says.

“We also asked them about their family environment, rating the veracity of statements such as ‘My family really tries to help me.’ And about their school environment: how much did they agree with statements such as, for example, ‘I feel safe at school’?

The main determining factors, when it comes to well-being, do not appear to be the hours spent online, or even what teenagers do while in front of the screen. Instead: “Our findings indicate that, in a supportive family and school context, spending more time online contributes to greater life satisfaction in children,” she says.

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This idea that the same amount or quality of screen time can affect different children in different ways is not new.

In 2021, a Internet Issues Survey Of 14,449 children aged 11 to 17, it was found that of them, 6,500 were identified as having one or more vulnerabilities, such as being in care, being autistic or having an eating disorder.

It found that the UK’s two million most vulnerable children are seven times more likely to be harmed online than their peers.

Feeling the connection

And yet, even for the most vulnerable children, the survey doesn’t suggest anything as simple as “screen time is dangerous.” In fact, “although some vulnerable children struggle to identify when a relationship is not genuine, but rather manipulative or controlling,” that is not the universal experience.

“Connecting with others, feeling supported or finding people ‘like me’ are, at first glance, very positive experiences,” state the authors of the study.

“Young people may feel connected and supported or feel like they have found people they fit in with…Teens help each other, and some are directed to support groups by their caregivers.”

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Their findings resonate with parents and children.

Stories abound of teenagers around the world who are improving the lives and prospects of their peers through digital media.

Ariana Sokolov, for example, was only 16 years old when she co-created Trill Project, an app that promotes mental health awareness among LGBTQ+ teens.

Anne Li was the same age when she and her friends founded Allgirlitmoa technology organization dedicated to encouraging more girls to get involved in its founders’ passion: computing.

Meanwhile, the British Amika George was only 17 years old when the Free periods movement on Instagram, to ensure that girls her age would no longer miss school due to lack of access to menstrual products.

In January 2020 he won. The government decided to provide schools with free sanitary products. Mrs. George now has an MBA.

‘We need parental controls to protect our children, but we also need to talk’

As Vodafone UK launches Digital Parenting Pro, a content control center for parents and carers, Nicki Lyons, Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, reflects on how resources like this can protect children from inappropriate content and help families have more informed conversations about online safety.

In the Internet Matters survey, about 69% of all teens (vulnerable or not) agreed that: “My online life has made me feel supported and connected to people.”

And while 62% of non-vulnerable teens agreed that “the Internet ‘opens up many possibilities for me,’” that figure rose to 86% of autistic teens in the survey and 82% of those with learning difficulties.

In out

TO danish studio of children ages 11 to 15 has found evidence that contradicts the widespread idea that screens are responsible for children spending less time outdoors.

Their results suggest that children’s ownership of phones gives parents a sense of security, resulting in further freedom to roam independently.

Children also reported that phones improved their experience of being outdoors, listening to music, and keeping in touch with parents and friends.

Sometimes it seems that, with the right support, screen time makes kids safer, healthier, and even happier.

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