The positive effects of children's screen time

  • Awareness
  • 15/01/2020
  • Maltese Safer Internet Centre

Out of all the issues related to children and young people's online safety, screen time – and the potentially beneficial or detrimental consequences associated with it – is probably the most debated one. Dunstan Hamilton, Education Officer for Personal, Social and Career Development (PSCD) at the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC), weighs in on the topic.

Without a doubt, many concerns are raised regarding the amount of screen time children engage in on a daily basis, at the expense of physical interactions with peers, such as when practicing a sport or even just meeting up.

These interactions are key factors for the development of communication skills, social skills – those skills which used to be called "soft skills" but are now also called "employability skills".

The children of today are the leaders and the parents of tomorrow, but does this important screen time have a positive or a negative effect on them? Just like everything else in life, screen time has both its pros and cons.

Social media can help shy children connect and make online friends, offering them a space to venture out. The digital world is also seemingly safer than the real-life one, which – for some children – might be frightening, filled with pressures, bullies and other dangers. For the more reserved children, screen time may thus be positive, but they must nevertheless be made aware of the dangers lurking online too, such as cyberbullying.

Screen time is also necessary to children to access the world of information-sharing, to learn new things, to carry out school projects and to increase one's knowledge of any topic that exists in this world and beyond.

Screen time is necessary for online research, home and school work. Searching for information now requires one simple click – it is now much less time-consuming than ever before – not to mention the fact that is now much more up-to-date and immediate. If used positively, the internet presents the opportunity to discover so many new things.

However, young people must be made aware that not all the information they find online is accurate and true. Students need to become critical thinkers and think twice before believing what is out there. They need to be aware of how to recognise reliable sources.

The internet also gives children and young people the opportunity to express themselves and to be entrepreneurial. They are – without a doubt – inspired by certain popular YouTubers who have made a great profit thanks to what they post online.

Influencers both influence the beliefs, tastes and behaviours of others, as well as encourage viewers to follow them in their journey, their experiences and their daily lives.

Even if parents may wish to, in practice they just cannot change the world their children have found themselves immersed in. At first, adults may feel helpless when confronted with the complexity of the situation.

What is important is that children and young people do not feel helpless and are not helpless. We, as educators, carers, parents, citizens, can help the young generation to learn the right skills to navigate safely online and the right knowledge to know what should be done, what should not, what is safe, and how one should behave online.

Having both skills and knowledge will help the young generation make informed choices when online; be aware of their digital footprint and of what should and should not be posted; and appreciate the advantages of being online today.

But what about the amount of time online? How much screen time daily can be considered acceptable? Addiction is worrying – and this includes being addiction to digital technologies. But with screen time offering so many benefits, who can blame the individual spending so much time online!

Find out more information about the work of the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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