Are we watching what they’re watching?

This week the British press has been full of shocking reports on the negative effects of social media on children and young people. Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP promised that digital giants Facebook and Instagram and others risk being banned if they do not stop harmful online content reaching vulnerable children and young people. He was responding to the heart-breaking case of Molly Russell, who took her own life in 2017 at the age of 14, encouraged, her father is convinced, by internet self-harming sites. These thoughts were echoed by Sir Nick Clegg in his role as new Facebook vice-president who has told the BBC the firm will do “whatever it takes” to make its social media platforms safer for young people.

Katherine Rushton reported in the Daily Mail this week on a “Generation of child web addicts: Youngsters are becoming so obsessed with the internet they spend more time on YouTube than with friends as parents struggle to keep control of their online usage.”

It is not just a live topic in the UK, on the same day last week The Times carried findings from the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) “Is increased screen time associated with poor performance on children’s developmental screening tests?” Answer: YES.  “Higher levels of screen time in children aged 24 and 36 months were associated with poor performance in achievement of development milestones….Excessive screen time can impinge on children’s ability to develop optimally; it is recommended that pediatricians and health care practitioners guide parents on appropriate amounts of screen exposure and discuss potential consequences of excessive screen use.”

Meanwhile across the channel, Population Europe has just published research on “The Mental Toll of Being Connected: What kind of impact is social media having on adolescent health?” Answer: “Social media use among adolescents has resulted in higher levels of unhappiness, anxiety and depression among young people.”

This message and JAMA’s findings only underline the growing unease society as a whole and parents in particular find in traversing this new digital minefield. These screens and their content are not just being seen in the playground, the street, the park, but in children’s bedrooms – in their homes. The place they should be safest. The place it now seems they can be most at risk.

The Home Renaissance Foundation’s vision and activity is to pay attention to the home and to understand and to support the home’s key role in forming and sustaining society. It is with this concern at heart that HRF has called a meeting of experts in the world of AI and digital technology: The Home in the Digital Age 25 -26 February in London to address these issues and help to develop guidance – something we all need to take home.