If your house is locked in battles over screen time, you may be surprised by experts saying that spending a bit more time online may in fact be a good thing.
The internet is often portrayed as a dangerous place for kids. And indeed, Digital Parenting is full of advice for parents and carers about how to keep our children safe from the many undoubted online dangers.
But there is a danger we lose sight of the benefits the internet brings.
“It is likely that too much focus on the negatives and possible risks, rather than harmful effects, help dampen the focus on the real extent of the positive day-to-day experiences children and adolescents generally have online,” says Niamh Ní Bhroin, a researcher at the University of Oslo.
Ms Ní Bhroin has been grappling with a puzzle.
Norwegian children and adolescents spend more time online than those in any other European country. Yet – surprisingly, perhaps, for parents used to agonising over the hours our children spend on screens – they also regularly score among the very highest when it comes to their self-reported wellbeing.
But if screen time is not uniformly harmful to our children, what makes some usage a positive influence for some children, and other options harmful?
Ms Ní Bhroin has been trying to answer this question. The analysis she produced with colleagues (subsequently published in the journal New Media & Society) focused on 1001 children, aged between nine and 16, who were interviewed about their lives on and off screen.
“In the survey, we asked children questions about their family, including whether and how their parents mediated their use of the Internet,” she says.
“We asked them about their family environment, too, by rating the truth of statements like ‘My family really tries to help me’. And about their school environments – how strongly did they agree with statements like ‘I feel safe at school’ for example.”
The major determining factors, when it comes to wellbeing, do not seem to be the hours spent online, or even what teens do while on screen. Instead: “Our findings indicate that, in a supportive family and school context, more time online contributes to more life satisfaction for children,” she says.