Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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3.2 Back to the experts

It is important to interpret with caution claims about the effects of screen time and related research evidence in all areas but especially in areas that are complex. For paediatricians and other primary care physicians, interpreting evidence follows the precautionary principle where insufficient evidence is interpreted as representing potential harm that children need to be protected from. The American Academy of Paediatricians received a lot of press coverage (but also unpopularity among many academics and educators) when it released a statement advising parents against the use of screen media with children under the age of two. This statement was revised in 2016 to indicate the positive importance of shared (parent-child) co-use of screen media. As more research evidence becomes available, the guidance will almost certainly require a further update. In the UK, researchers agree that any general guidance on technology use is not helpful until a more solid body of evidence becomes available.

Whether you are a digital optimist or pessimist, it’s obvious that while technology can bring about opportunities, it also has potential associated risks. This has led to some paediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists arguing that parents should limit young children’s use of, and exposure to, new digital technologies. But is this really the answer? Is simply restricting children’s access actually the best way to ensure their safety?

Sonia Livingstone is a Professor in social psychology and a leading researcher in children’s media. In the following video, she tackles some of these important questions and considers whether prevention really is the best cure. She considers how restricting access to technology may also restrict opportunities for children to develop resilience against future harm.

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What do you think about her advice on minimising online risks and on how parents can best support children’s engagement with technology? Discuss your viewpoint with someone you know and who is interested in this topic, and then make notes of the key conclusions you came to.

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