Engaging in digital media activities together such as watching films, playing video games and keeping in touch via calls and messaging apps brings families together, according to a new report from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) released today (6 February 2018).
The Parenting for a Digital Future report, launched on Safer Internet Day 2018, disputes the popular anxiety that digital media destroys family life by separating family members. Rather than displacing established ways of interacting, the report finds that digital media sits alongside them.
Families still eat, shop and read together but they also watch TV, stream content and use educational technology together - with these activities forming an important part of family life in an increasingly global and digitalised world.
A nationally representative survey of over 2,000 parents of children aged 0-17 found in the past week:
- Eight in ten parents watched TV/films at home with their child(ren)
- Four in ten parents and children learned about something on the internet together
- Three in ten parents and children contacted friends or family using the internet together
Not only is using digital media a way of families spending time together, it also supports parents with raising their children.
The vast majority of parents themselves use the internet at least monthly, and most of those parents use it to support parenting activities:
- Around half of all parents use it for educational purposes
- Four in ten parents use it to download or stream content for their child(ren)
- Three in ten parents use it for health information and advice related to their child(ren)
However, despite the benefits of digital media, the report highlights the lack of support for parents facing dilemmas regarding their child or family’s digital media use. Only nine per cent of those surveyed said they would turn to their own parents for advice on digital problems compared to 28 per cent who would ask their parents for advice in general – revealing a generation gap that leaves parents unsupported in this area.
The authors are calling on policymakers to consider how to reach parents with guidance on digital matters in ways that are effective, inclusive and tailored to the specific ages and needs of children.
Commenting, Professor Sonia Livingstone from the Department of Media and Communications at LSE says: “Rather than worrying about the overall amount of ‘screen time’ children get, it might be better to support parents, many of whom are ‘digital natives’ themselves, in deciding whether, when and why particular digital activities help or harm their child, and what to do about it.”
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet Founder and CEO, says: "Conversations on Mumsnet about children's internet use reveal a wide variety of viewpoints. Parents who grew up without the internet can be baffled by jargon and functionality; web-native millennial parents are often more wary than older parents and tend to put stricter rules in place. Parents of children with additional needs talk about the acceptance and inclusion their children find online, and the educational potential of the web is welcomed by all. Good advice grounded in real families' lives is a huge help, and - as this report notes - parents would welcome more well-informed, tailored support."
Will Gardner, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, coordinators of Safer Internet Day, says: “With digital technology embedded in family life it is essential we empower families to harness positive opportunities and help children to navigate the risks and pressures they may face. Safer Internet Day provides a good opportunity for parents and carers to explore the internet together with their child and have a conversation about using technology safely and positively.”
Watch Professor Sonia Livingstone discuss the findings of the report here.