Adland Can Celebrate -- Devices Aren't Bad For Kids

Has digital marketing's fight back started? The usual doom and gloom about children spending too much time on devices has been partially shattered this morning by the release of new research that cautions parents do not need to get so worked up about screen time.

However, at the same time, London's University College has published research that shows a link between girls' use of social media and mental health. So, which report should adland look to for the truth?

Interestingly, the study by Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) feels like a lone voice telling parents not to be so concerned by screen use. It isn't calling open season on screens, meaning that children can use them as long as they like. Instead, their research is pointing out that screens are here to stay and screen time should be controlled. In particular, the researchers suggest children don't use a screen before bedtime and that they should never be in the way of family activities and meal times.

As for the girls becoming depressed, the University College researchers have attributed online bullying and social media pressures as a contributing cause. In particular, the study makes the point that this curtails sleep and so leads to girls' moods becoming worse.

This morning one of the RCPCH researchers was pushed on this point by the BBC and his answer was very interesting. There is no "causal" link between screen time and depression, he asserted. Instead, what could be happening is that kids who are feeling down and unpopular may surf online and spend more time on social because it doesn't involve face-to-face contact.

As ever, the truth is probably a combination of young people who are feeling down opting to go online rather than join a school club and then finding they don't always like the comments and content they see when there. The reason for a lack of sleep isn't caused by nor attributable solely to use of screens.

For me, there is good news in today's research. Although girls having their moods worsened by adverse comments on social media is worrisome. it is something they can control. Abuse can be reported, contacts can be deleted and groups can be avoided. 

In a way, parents are being asked to bring balance to their children's digital lives. This isn't just a matter of how long they are allowed to be on screens, but also involves the content they are reviewing. We have certainly barred our kids at different stages from apps where other kids "banter" was becoming hurtful. 

Screens can't be allowed to overtake family life, but parents also can't expect to keep children locked out of the modern world. Time has to be set aside to climb a tree, walk the dog, read a book, have a family meal, but if today's research shows us one thing it is that, if used sensibly, the screens themselves are not the danger.

A bit of supervision and common sense is needed, but that is to be expected. Adland can take heart from today's research.

For once, the conversation is taking a mature stance. Rather than just the digital world being seen as bad, adland can now point to scientists showing that reality is more nuanced, and it's all about balance.

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