30 July 2019
Writing a blog provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on personal experience. One of the authors of this piece (Louise) has a long-standing fondness for games, and would like to share this experience.
“Some time ago I had a particularly bad year. I found myself playing the sequel to a computer game I loved. I hid in a virtual terrain until I could face the world again. I don’t often play games now, but I routinely use my phone to contact my friends and family through an astonishing range of voice and text based apps. I’ve grown to love video streaming and when I’m lost I use the satellite system on my phone.”
There are many wonderful aspects to the technology we now have available to us; socially we can make immediate contact with friends and family around the world, we have the opportunity to develop new friendships through online games and shared interests and we can gain support quickly in difficult times. We can access good quality information about news and politics and research topics for assignments and homework. Children who are unwell can keep in contact with teachers and peers and we can learn more about sensitive health conditions and identity issues and gain support from people who might share a health condition. Finally, there are some conversations that can be difficult to have face to face or to say out loud. We know that many young people have been able to seek mental health support for low mood or thoughts of suicide in supportive and safe online settings and we welcome this valuable support.
Many young people have been able to seek mental health support for low mood or thoughts of suicide in supportive and safe online settings
However, Ofcom reported that 16% of 8 – 11 year olds and 31% of 12 – 15 year olds had seen something online that they found worrying or nasty. In addition to bullying and unwanted approaches to children and young people identified in the Government White Paper addressing Online Harms, there is also the risk that children and young people will perceive the lives of others as being better than their own. Furthermore, there is increasing awareness of sites, posts and images which may encourage thinness or self-harm. It has been suggested that such sites are linked to suicide. Internet use has been linked in some studies to an increase in low mood and children and young people with mental health needs are more likely to report spending more time on social media sites than they intend to. There is some evidence to suggest that children and young people with specific mental health needs may be more vulnerable to the downsides of technology.
We need to have open and honest conversations with children and young people about technology, and adults need to think about their use of devices
So how can we be happy online and support children and young people to do the same? Good principles are suggested by the Children’s Commissioner with their digital 5 a day. This principle of moderation is echoed in a wide range of documents; no technology during meal times, face to face time and encouragement to reduce technology use in the hour before the negotiated bed time. We need to have open and honest conversations with children and young people about technology, and adults need to think about their use of devices. Education services are starting to work creatively to educate children and young people about the safe use of technology, this is an important role and good practice should be shared. The screens we use can enhance our lives, but we all need to engage in the offline world and support our family and friends to do the same.