Are children spending too much time online?

  • Awareness
  • 22/01/2020
  • Maltese Safer Internet Centre

It is a well-known fact that media and technology have transformed our lives. For some of us adults, it may even be hard to remember the pre-smartphone age. In this context, it is easy to feel overwhelmed faced with the considerable amount of time children and young people can sometimes spend online. Dunstan Hamilton, Education Officer for Personal, Social and Career Development (PSCD) at the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC), reflects on the topic.

Being aware of what life was like about 15 to 20 years ago is one thing. Nowadays, many of us parents, carers and educators are also facing the modern-day reality of how digital technologies affect us, but also the challenge of keeping up with technology as our children or pupils pick up devices at an ever-younger age and spend more and more time on them.

Our lack of updated knowledge and the fact that they use these devices with such ease undoubtedly makes some of us feel uneasy and powerless. One particularly challenging issue for parents, carers and educators in today's world relates to children and young people's overuse of digital devices.

Certain concerns stemming from this overuse automatically come to mind – lack of sleep; decreased concentration in class and when doing homework; social isolation; cyber-bullying; and exposure to harmful and disturbing content.

As concerned adults, we have found ourselves having no past background experience, no instructions or past childhood experiences that we can use or reflect on to guide us in this new online reality.

We cannot even reflect on what our own parents did for us in a similar situation, since when we were children this whole set-up did not exist – especially for those slightly older parents that lived through the age of no mobile phones at all!

Everything from watching television, doing research at the library, reading books or magazines, talking with school friends – all these activities are now carried out on the internet. Even homework is now sometimes done online! So how can we possibly get our children to limit their use of social media, when they live in a world where most things happen online?

We ourselves use social media for both work and leisure. Can our children understand that if they see an adult spend long periods of time online, this might be because work requires so, or will they feel it is unjust that they are given a time limit whilst we ourselves seem to be online for much longer?

Our own excessive use of online devices makes it harder to enforce reduced use and to limit screen time. And for those of us who work remotely, the comparison children will make if we set limits for them but not for us will surely bring about even larger complaints of injustice. Our own use is passing on a message.

Naturally, there is the option of not giving children a smartphone or tablet at all, or of at least procrastinating and dragging one's feet, or promising one as a birthday present in the future. However, such measures might consequently cut them off from their peers if all their friends are playing or communicating online, except them, resulting in their exclusion from the group.

As for many things in life, moderation is the key to a balanced life. Let us wisely embrace it, and get to grips with the digital world, but teach the young generation that there exists a just as wonderful life offline.

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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