Keeping kids safe, happy and healthy in a digital world
04 March 2013
Virgin Media are listening to what the UK thinks about 'Our digital future'. Over the past few months we've invited digital pioneers and experts, MPs, business leaders and the wider UK public to share their views about the impact of digital technology on people, business and communities. Recently, we turned the focus of the conversation towards the issues that children can face online and we've had some really valuable feedback from our experts on the best way to keep kids safe, happy and healthy.
Sue Palmer and Tim Gill are two of the UK's leading thinkers on modern-day childhood. Sue is a former head-teacher, author and speaker on child development and learning. Tim is the former Director of the Children's Play Council and a well-known researcher and writer on the changing nature of childhood, children's play and free time. While both Tim and Sue recognise the risks of children being exposed to online pornography and cyberbullying, they argue that missing out on important real-world experiences, such as outdoor play, social interaction and everyday physical activity are much greater concerns for children today.
Their argument goes like this. Our culture is evolving at an ever-greater pace but babies are still born with the same bodies and brains as they were in Stone Age times and they need real-life, three-dimensional experiences to learn about the world and the people they share it with. In order to develop social skills, physical coordination and a common-sense understanding of the world, children need creative social play in real time and space; something which digital interaction cannot give them.
Recent research has shown that nearly nine out of ten 7 to 11 year olds use some form of online communication tool while child protection experts are suggesting that children as young as five should be given lessons in how to use the internet safely. So what can we do to ensure that the impact of digital technology on children's development is positive rather than negative?
Sue suggests that screen-based activity should be avoided as much as possible for the first couple of years of a child's life. Then, between 2 and 7, the amount of time spent in front of the screen should be limited to a maximum of two hours a day, so it doesn't displace 'real play', family time, reading, getting out and about, and developing a wide range of interests.
In addition to these recommendations for parents, Tim calls for a wider societal responsibility in making streets, parks and neighbourhoods safer and more welcoming for children and families. Creating safer spaces will support parents in allowing their children to spend more time out of doors, and to build a broad social case for children being out and about in their neighbourhoods and having the chance to learn from their experiences, adventures and explorations.
These are important first steps in ensuring that children are able to thrive in our digital future. But we all have a role to play. At Virgin Media, we think it's really important that parents have the right access to information, tools and support to help them make the best choices. Over the next few months we'll be raising awareness about these issues and helping to make sure people know how to get the best out of digital technology. We'd love to hear from you, get in touch below or join the conversation over at www.ourdigitalfuture.co.uk.