As parents we understand that digital media is now an everyday part of our children’s lives. I believe some parents want digital media to be used to foster important life skills and relationships, but we have to ask the question; When does digital media pose a risk to my child’s development?
Common Sense Media and the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducted a study on children’s (ages 0-8) digital media consumption, focusing on YouTube (not YouTube Kids, because most children watch the adult version of YouTube). Find report here: ( https://d2e111jq13me73.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/uploads/research/2020_youngkidsyoutube-report_final-release_forweb.pdf) They concluded that YouTube video consumption by children has the potential to lead to harmful effects on the development of children’s Effective Function skills which include; working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility.
This conclusion is based on their findings which are several, I will quickly mention some that stood out to me here; Overall their argument is that the ads on YouTube are inappropriate for children. Commercially driven content, such as ads disrupt any potential learning when watching videos, many ad creators do not know that their ads are being played during videos such as nursery rhymes. These video ads often contain violence, bullying, sexual imagery, drugs, frightening images and promote consumerism, these will influence a child’s norms and behaviours negatively. Only 5% of videos categorised as ‘educational’ are considered ‘high value’ educational material and developmentally appropriate. Finally, unlike Netflix and Amazon Prime or other streaming services there is no previous experience of production or script writing experience required for youtube – which leads to lesser quality of content
As a remedy to these findings they suggest parents have to be media mentors and to switch children to YouTube Kids. If you want to stay on the platform after finding out the information in these studies, they suggest that parents carefully mentor and monitor their children’s YouTube consumption. Unfortunately, the scope of the study did not include providing that specific information of what can be considered an appropriate amount of screen time. However the involvement of parents in children’s media consumption and interaction is emphasised.
Technoference is a term used to describe the frequent and daily disruptions that smart phones and other forms of digital media plays on the interpersonal relationships between children and parents (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016). Parents average 3 hours a day on smart phones, and average 9 hours a day when other forms of digital devices are included (Lauricella, 2015; Wartella, 2015). This is a concern because of the parent or primary carer and child relationship being first and most important for the development for EF skills.
What researchers suggest to address Technoference is Joint Media Engagement, or JME which is when parents or carers view, play, search, read, or create with digital or traditional media together. When parents and carers engage digital media with children, “they help them draw connections between what they see on screen and in the real world, respond to questions, share their perspective, and model appropriate responses and behaviours as well as physically assist children with a digital device.” This makes a huge difference to the experience of the child when viewing videos, taking something that is low quality, non-engaging into a meaningful learning experience.
Joint Media Engagement is important, because as tempting as it is to give a child a phone or tablet and let them watch videos that we think may be educational so that we can get some work done, YouTube is not an adequate substitute for parent engagement. Early childhood experts have long advocated for the importance of joint attention for learning and meaning-making. In fact, JME holds value in video game worlds as well, there are many rich topics to explore when playing video games.
This research is a bit troubling, YouTube is a mainstream, household app, to see the evidence against its use for children can be a bit disturbing. Their suggested solutions are legitimate, however we have to ask; how many families are struggling now during the Covid19 pandemic and have expendable income, even a few pounds or dollars to pay for another subscription? How many parents have the capacity (time & energy) to sit and watch YouTube videos with their children? But more importantly we should ask, is it wise in the eyes of God for us to allow our children to be negatively effected by these things? The Psalms and Proverbs are full of wisdom we can draw on that says; No, it isn’t wise. Psalm 127:3 tells us; “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” Proverbs 22:6 says; “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” I believe these words are as relevant now as they were when they were originally recited thousands of years ago. Our children are a blessing from God and we as parents are instructed to care for them, to “Train” them in the ways of God, and in this day and age this means being those “media mentors” that researchers say we have to be. Proverbs 29:17 reminds us “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind and will make your heart glad.” In this context I believe it means not allowing them to run freely in the chaos that is the digital media playground, but this also speaks to us, we have to discipline ourselves and take the sacrifices needed to protect our children from negative images and content. If these negative images and messages are proven to negatively effect our children, we won’t have peace, and most importantly, they won’t have the peace that God brings. It is our duty and responsibility to God and our children to approach media mindfully and engage in healthy, fruitful media practices. Every Blessing.