Digital media can enhance family life, says LSE study
Digital media activities are enhancing family life rather than destroying it as they increasingly play an important role in families, a study has found.
Research by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) challenges the prevailing narrative that digital media is undermining family life, separating family members and diverting them from traditional, shared activities.
Instead, it said that media and internet-related activities are now deeply integrated into family life, and are as common a way of sharing time as more traditional activities such as eating and shopping together.
The study also claimed that engaging in digital media activities together such as watching films, playing video games and keeping in touch via calls and messaging apps brings families together rather than dividing them.
The Parenting for a Digital Future report, launched on Safer Internet Day 2018 and based on a survey of 2,000 parents, concludes: “Contrary to what panicky headlines might have us believe, rather than displacing established ways of interacting, playing and communicating – digital media sit alongside them.
“Today, British families eat, shop and read together – and they watch TV, stream content, play video games, and use educational technology. They stop by to see friends and family and they text, use messaging apps and make video calls.”
The report also finds that digital media supports parents with raising their children. The vast majority of parents surveyed said they used the internet at least monthly and most of them used it to support parenting activities.
About half said they used it for educational purposes, while four in 10 used it to download or stream content for their children, and three in 10 sought health advice related to their children.
However, the report’s authors highlighted parents’ concerns about “screen time”, which is a source of conflict in homes, though sleep and behaviour cause more disagreement. They also flag up a lack of support for parents who may face particular challenges regarding their child or family’s digital media use. Whereas on other issues they might turn to their own parents for advice, the digital generation gap means they are unlikely to be able to help. Only 9% of those surveyed said they would turn to their own parents for advice, compared with 28% who would ask their parents for advice in general.
The survey confirmed that traditional, shared activities persist in families, alongside newer digital activities. In the space of a week, eight in 10 parents ate meals and watched television or films with their children; six in 10 shared sporting activities, shopping and family visits, and more than half played and read with their children.
Mothers reported more activities with their children overall, though fathers were likely to say they played computer and video games with their children. Parents were most likely to use social media to stay in touch with their teenage children.
The author of the report, Prof Sonia Livingstone from the LSE’s department of media and communications, said: “Rather than worrying about the overall amount of screen time children get, it might be better to support parents, many of whom are digital natives themselves, in deciding whether, when and why particular digital activities help or harm their child, and what to do about it.”
Justine Roberts, the chief executive and founder of the Mumsnet parenting website, said conversations on Mumsnet about children’s internet use revealed a wide variety of viewpoints. “Parents who grew up without the internet can be baffled by jargon and functionality; web-native millennial parents are often more wary than older parents and tend to put stricter rules in place.
“Good advice grounded in real families’ lives is a huge help, and – as this report notes – parents would welcome more well-informed, tailored support.”
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