Wired chil­dren

A DE­BATE IS RAG­ING IN THE WEST ON WHETHER CHIL­DREN SHOULD BE BANNED FROM WATCH­ING ALL SCREENS

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - By Fi­achra Gib­bons

Reg­u­la­tors and pro­gramme mak­ers are at odds over whether small chil­dren should be banned from watch­ing tele­vi­sion or us­ing tablets and smart­phones.

France urges par­ents not to al­low chil­dren un­der three to watch

TV, and Amer­i­can pae­di­a­tri­cians also favour a to­tal ban on screen time un­til at least 18 months. Ca­role Bien­aime-besse, who sits on France’s TV reg­u­la­tor, the CSA, claimed last week that over­ex­pos­ing ba­bies and small chil­dren to dig­i­tal de­vices has be­come a “pub­lic health is­sue.”

“Peo­ple are re­al­is­ing that screens can cause ad­dic­tion even among very small chil­dren, and in extreme cases autis­tic prob­lems, what is called vir­tual autism,” she said.

“Sil­i­con Val­ley also knows this. There are lots of ed­u­ca­tional apps for ba­bies, but in

the end the re­sults are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive,” Bien­aime-besse said.

Stud­ies show that “chil­dren over-ex­posed to them are the ones who find it hard­est at school,” she said.

France banned its broad­cast­ers from tar­get­ing un­der-3s in 2008, and blocked Fox­owned Babytv from launch­ing there.

But some pro­gramme mak­ers in­sist that bans do not work, es­pe­cially with so many par­ents us­ing tele­vi­sion and de­vices to “babysit” their chil­dren.

“It is ad­mirable, but prob­a­bly un­re­al­is­tic” to try to keep small chil­dren away from screens, said Alice Webb, who heads the BBC’S chil­dren’s arm, CBBC, and the Cbee­bies net­work for pre-school chil­dren.

“Those times are long gone. Dig­i­tal is ev­ery­where. This is a tide you can­not get ahead of,” she told top TV ex­ec­u­tives last week at the Mipju­nior gath­er­ing at Cannes on the French Riviera.

That said, the Bri­tish pub­lic broad­caster is so wor­ried about the dig­i­tal Wild, Wild West chil­dren are grow­ing up in that it is hold­ing a global sum­mit in De­cem­ber to try to put heads to­gether on how they might be bet­ter served and pro­tected.

“We need to have this con­ver­sa­tion now be­cause we don’t want to be say­ing to our­selves in 10 years time, ‘What did we do to our chil­dren?’” Webb said.

She said the BBC aimed Cbee­bies at chil­dren from two up­wards, “but we know chil­dren younger than that are watch­ing. So we have to be re­al­is­tic about this, and bear those chil­dren in mind” know­ing that the TV or a tablet may be their “babysit­ter.”

“We have games and apps that are about help­ing chil­dren de­velop the cog­ni­tive skills that a 2-year-old needs. This is about learn­ing on screen and in the real world at the same time, it is not an ei­ther or and it’s all about mod­er­a­tion,” Webb ar­gued.

For older chil­dren, Webb said it was “im­pos­si­ble to think we can con­trol what goes on­line.”

She said the only an­swer was to “teach chil­dren what is and is not for them... how to de­velop crit­i­cal think­ing and how to cope when they see things they don’t want.”

She said the BBC is set­ting up a new on­line re­source called “Own

It” to help chil­dren deal with the dan­gers and chal­lenges of so­cial me­dia.

While Instagram, Twit­ter and Face­book claim that only teenagers over 13 are al­lowed onto their net­works, Webb said that in the UK 75 per cent of 10-year-olds and above are on so­cial me­dia.

De­spite what the so­cial me­dia giants say, “sta­tis­tics sug­gest oth­er­wise and they are find­ing it harder to stand be­hind that line,” Webb said.

Bien­aime-besse said reg­u­la­tors need stronger pow­ers so they can act against in­ap­pro­pri­ate on­line con­tent in the same way as they do with tra­di­tional broad­cast­ers.

“I think it is ab­surd that the likes of Face­book and Twit­ter are not reg­u­lated like other con­tent sup­pli­ers.”

And she was scep­ti­cal that the in­dus­try would reg­u­late it­self when it came to younger chil­dren.

How­ever, “if you go to Sil­i­con Val­ley, all the big tech ex­ec­u­tives send their chil­dren to Montes­sori schools with­out screens and just black­boards.

“And Steve Jobs of Ap­ple did not al­low his chil­dren to use an ipad.”

Bien­aime-bess said par­ents had to wake up to “what we are hold­ing in our hands. A child who can­not de­fend them­selves should be pro­tected from the harm that these very use­ful tools can bring.

“Kids should be­come masters of tech­nol­ogy by learn­ing cod­ing” rather than be­ing slaves to it, she said.

Ex­perts of­ten cite the ex­am­ple of Steve Jobs who didn’t al­low his chil­dren to use an ipad.

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