Summertime is screentime

Parents, pastoral leads, teachers, school leaders, safeguarders. We all have a massive investment of hope in how we can recalibrate and return after the summer break refreshed and able to pick up on ‘real life’ in school with more momentum. And replace what has been missed from the emphasis on virtual life in the interruptions of the pandemic. There are now acronyms for this ‘IRL’ – in real life, ‘IVL’ In virtual life. How can we all look towards our values, and find meaning and purpose in the dialogue we might have about the risks and rewards of screens? Of course the pandemic and the challenges of social restriction have poured the equivalent of ‘Miracle Grow’ on ALL of our relationships with screens. And how is that relationship growing, Japanese knotweed? Carefully pruned roses? Miniature but perfectly formed bonsai? This is the question. What does OUR relationship with the screen look like. How match fit are WE to role model the preservation of our focus? In my family, our little-one has the battle-cry of ‘Phoneo, Phoneo. Wherefore art thou Phoneo’ whenever I am reaching out for my phone too much, eg checking on the data for my social media posts or the metrics for my newsletter. IT’s truly an addiction I have to get a better handle on.

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Phoneo, Phoneo, wherefore art thou phoneo?

And how will the relationships our children have with themselves, each other, their work, their screens skew what this summer will look like. From my parenting coaching, I know that many parents are bracing themselves for the aftermath of this academic year which has had plenty of stresses and strains. What will the response be this summer. Parents may be anticipating.
 Hedonism, an eruption of party-going, hanging out, socialising? An exaggerated sex n’ drugs n’rock and roll release of tension from lockdown parties missed, release from the structure of school in your mid to late teens?
 Teenage pupation staying in bed most of the time, festering in unventilated bedrooms? Battles around washing, getting up, getting dressed?
 A perfectly balanced routine that your self-driven child will create for his / herself that might  include work experience, sporting activity, cultural activities, dare I say it wider reading?
 Screen time battles?

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sweet spring is your time is my time is our time for springtime is love time and viva sweet loveBorrowed from the emotive and anarchical poet ee cummings who here writes about the beauty and sheer energy and growth of Spring. What romances will blossom and grow in this long anticipated summertime of the lives of our children and teens? In this edition, I am going to focus on what as parents we might do to keep an eye on and help steer the burgeoning relationship our youngsters have with their screens.

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What are WE creating with our devices. What are our devices creating with US? 

I know that many of you are well versed in the sort of risks screenlife holds. And I am going to bracket them under 3 headings. Content risk – that they will share content they shouldn’t which might put them at risk of unwanted contact, or might expose information about your family home that compromises your security or finances. Contact risk – that they may be groomed, or bullied, radicalised, or blackmailed online. This may be peer-to peer abuse – which is a massive growth area of safeguarding work in this country, Western Europe and the US. Conduct risk – that they may bully other people, humiliate or persecute others, act in an unkind or degrading way towards others. They may participate in communities online that espouse hate-crimes, or post content that is illegal or shows illegal activities. They may commit acts of teen / preteen rashness that may be permanently searchable and compromise their digital presence online, they may leave a digital footprint that leaves a somewhat nasty, stinky trail. Schools educate children about these three online areas of risk – and in the UK, this will form part of the school’s safeguarding policy, there will be a policy that outlines publicly their commitment to Online safety, when and how they educate the children in an age-appropriate way. BUT of course this landscape shifts and changes. Parents buy their children smartphones ever earlier (age 9+), grant their children completely varying levels of freedom, and allow their children to spend different amounts of supervised/ unsupervised time online. By the time your child – or your child’s friends have smartphones, the bets are off on what they might see online. Whether it is pornography or acts of brutality (beheadings, the death of George Floyd) and what they see cannot be unseen. So how to best protect our children? This is the first of a 2 part edition. Today – raising awareness of the commercialisation of childhood online, how our children’s attention gets manipulated. 

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What you might know but needs saying anyway:
1. All devices and apps are designed to be as addictive as possible. Your attention, the attention of your children and teens is a COMMODITY – and big business is trading on it. There was a recent protest by psychologists in the US proposing that the psychologists who work for Silicon Valley are de-registered because their work is not in the interests of psychological health – rather their psychological expertise is used to support profits by informing the design of apps and devices to fuel addictive behaviours. Schools and parents need to work together to preserve the attentional focus of the next generation.
2. We live in an age of distraction – turbulent times are anxious times which hijack the brain into fast, inaccurate, scattered, system 1 thinking and inhibit focus, creativity, deeper thinking. Layer on top of that the impact of the proliferation of devices, communication methods, entertainment distractions, and our increasing dependency on them Daniel Goleman speaks of this as the ‘amygdala hijack’ which overrides thoughtful executive functions, and inhibits the growth of executive functioning in our growing children and teens.

What you might not know but need to know as a parent, teacher, guardian of the nurture and growth of the next generation: 
1. Screens are used as a conduit for marketing. Marketing to kids is big business. Kim John Payne (US Parenting expert and founder of Simplicity Parenting) speaks of attending conferences on how to market to children – he says that in these conferences we are no longer parents we are called ‘purchasing friction’ and marketing to kids is all about removing that purchasing friction.
2. $16 billion is spent on marketing to kids. Food, tech companies, car companies.
3. Child loyalty = brand loyalty for life. And children influence their parents’ brand choices.
4. These are expert, well-targeted efforts that actively and consciously erode childhood and erode our influence from family life in the interest of profit. We pay for it – in more ways than one. WE put the devices into the hands of our children. We fund the Wifi. We need to get back more control and help our children have more control and understanding.
5. Gaming is another way our children’s attention is commercialised. They are required to watch commercials in order to ‘stay in the game’ – unless they / we pay, this is a condition of their continued playing.
6. Various aspects of e-commerce connected with gaming are increasingly linked to gambling and gambling addiction.
7. Loot boxes in the gaming world are ‘structurally and psychologically akin to gambling’ according to research from the University of Plymouth. The House of Lords has already recommended Loot boxes should be regulated as ‘games of chance’. In case you don’t know – and I didn’t. Loot boxes are a game feature involving a mystery “box” – sometimes earned through playing the game – sometimes paid for with real money – which can be opened for a random collection of in-game items such as weapons or cosmetic costumes. GambleAware say that Twelve out of 13 studies on the topic have established “unambiguous” connections to problem gambling behaviour. Of the 93% of children who play video games, up to 40% opened loot boxes. Ask the kids about it – get them to show you and talk about what it feels like Listen and learn, then discuss and shape. Read
1. Esports are on the rise, have a younger and younger audience and are spawning gambling habits that stick from an early age in adolescence. Esports is the competitive playing of video games such as League of Legends, Fortnite and Fifa Football. Why is this relevant? The audiences are massive, 78 million alone for Fortnite monthly players and professional tournaments attract millions. And with those audiences comes big business. Major bookmakers such as PaddyPower, Bet365 and Betway, along with many niche operators, are now offering bets on esports tournaments. 
1.  “In 2019, 17% of esports gamblers were aged 18-24. In general, more and more UK 16-34-year-olds are gambling, and the average age of gamblers is decreasing. The number of problem gamblers aged 11-16 has also quadrupled to more than 50,000 in just two years. This comes at a time when 93% of UK children play video games, averaging three hours a day and a growing number also follow professional esports teams.” Read the full article:
1. From the same article: “Advertising techniques used by gambling operators are somewhat different from those used for traditional sports (with an older audience). Rather than getting people to sign up or make impulsive gambles by offering “free bets”, “matched bets” or “sign-up bonuses”, esports betting appears to concentrate much more on tweets that are funny, using gifs, memes and esports insider-knowledge.” MY observations of my 11-year-old and her peers is that there is a real social currency to having funny memes and Gifs to share.
Resources – parents, schools, digital safeguarding: Youth Gaming and Gambling Awareness and Harm Prevention Workshops

I hope that you have found this newsletter helpful. Please get in touch with feedback or questions. If you are interested in a consultation on this topic – or coaching to support you in this often fraught area of family life, please get in touch. Teachers – send me your anecdotes, what are you noticing about the direction of travel in the attentional focus of your pupils? What are your concerns? Any illustrative stories to share? Do get in touch. Next up – how to work the long apprenticeship to independence online.

As always – with love and gratitude.


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