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Image / Parenthood

‘When we demonise screens, we risk demonising the things our children love’


By Amanda Cassidy
06th Aug 2022
‘When we demonise screens, we risk demonising the things our children love’

Clinical Psychologist and Author of Changing our Minds, Naomi Fisher has spoken out about the danger of demonising screen time for children.

In a thread that has gone viral, the psychologist explains that the narrative is constantly about fear. “When parents talk to me about gaming and screens, it’s always about fear. ‘Will they get addicted?’ they ask me. ‘I can’t control my own use, how can a child do it?’ There’s so much fear that we have no time to talk about the benefits.”

She goes on to explain how, in her work, she sees children who don’t feel “competent anywhere else in their lives, feeling good about themselves when they play video games. I ask them about it and they come alive. They often can’t believe an adult is interested.”

Connections

Fisher also says that too often she sees  “young people who are really isolated, starting to make connections through online gaming. They can start by in-game typing and then move into voice chat. The shared game takes the pressure off, and they can relate”

“I meet young people who can regulate their emotions with their tablet, taking some time out in their day to put on headphones and sink into their safe zone, meaning that they can carry on afterwards. It’s such a useful and portable way to take some time out.

I also see young people whose lives are really difficult, and they use gaming to avoid their thoughts and feelings. Their parents worry & start to put in bans. The thing is, the gaming is the solution they’ve found, not the cause. It’s the difficult life we need to change.”

Benefits

Hundreds responded to the thread pointing out the benefits they found from balanced amount of screen time. One Tweeted: “Thank you for that. My youngest (now 17) has been a huge user of screens and gaming from a young age. He is bright, articulate, top of his class and hoping to go to Oxford to study engineering next year. It is not all doom and gloom and he is an expert coder now”

Another explained how the fear of screens can put parents off. “Gaming and streaming are also realistic job prospects for some. Just because it wasn’t around when we were young doesn’t mean we should scoff. Some more traditional jobs will have disappeared by the time our kids are adults. Would we disapprove of a career in radio or sport?”

I was once the child you describe, gaming and online gave me a world I could escape to and be free in. I met my husband via it, we’ve been together 12yrs and our eldest is a bit of a computer whizz. They adore coding and love the freedom it brings”

Passion

I have a son of my own who enjoys many different activities. But when it comes to coding on Minecraft, he can spend hours figuring things out, building and creating. Just because it is on screens, I often get pangs of mummy guilt that it’s a bad thing. But if he was doing the same sitting at the table playing Lego, I’d be encouraging him.

Clearly, being isolated or speaking to strangers online is a problem, but if a ten year old is within supervising distance, using parts of his brain that will be useful in the future, and calling his siblings over to help/admire, I don’t see the issue.

Bear in mind that there’s a big difference between mindlessly watching YouTube videos and learning how to build on Minecraft or create something in Roblox. Screentime is used widely to cover every time a child looks at a screen, but it isn’t at all the same thing.

In fact, a study from researchers at the University of Oxford has tracked data from several hundred thousand subjects finding digital technology use accounts for less than half a percent of a young person’s negative mental health. The research suggests everything from wearing glasses to not getting enough sleep have bigger negative effects on adolescent well-being than digital screen use.

Psychologist Fischer agrees.

Bonds

“When we demonise screens, we risk demonising the things our children love. We denigrate their choices. We give them the message that the things they value aren’t worth the time, that they can’t be trusted to make decisions.When we instead join with them, we give them the message that we are interested in the things they enjoy. Even if we aren’t interesting in gaming, we can be interested in our young people and what makes them come alive. We can value the joy.

We can learn to play Roblox, or Brawl Stars, or Minecraft, and appreciate the connection that that gives us with our young people. We can ask about their progress and about their new game. We show that we are interested in them. And from that seed, other things will grow.”

Fostering our children’s passions is just that. The screens, for the most part, are a means to this brave new world. Let’s not be so afraid of it.