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Opinion & Analysis

#ThinkingAllowed: Stop children bingeing on social media, or not?

Dear reader. I think I may need some extra help from you this week. It’s because in the debate of online v outdoors I’m still to make up my mind. Is it because I try to see and understand all points of view? Or is it because like many others I will agree with the benefits of time away from a screen whilst typing this on my laptop and interrupting my flow of thought to answer a few Facebook messages and WhatsApp. Oh, just a second I’m off to check my Twitter feed.

It’s summer and as families go on holiday are they all enjoying some time away and stopped overusing social media? Is that even a thing?

Earlier this summer the Children’s Commissioner in the UK urged parents to stop children bingeing on social media during the holidays. She warned parents that they must intervene to stop their youngsters consuming time online “like junk food”.

It was basically a call for children to “unplug” during the summer. Makes total sense, doesn’t it?

Supporters of the outdoors joined in. Playing outside makes children active etc…

But wait. What about the need to save your country in the future? Just as I thought these arguments made perfect sense the former head of GCHQ said parents should be encouraging their children to spend more time online in order to “save the country.” You read that correctly – more time.

Robert Hannigan, the man who headed Britain’s surveillance agency between 2014 and 2017, a very different view and also a warning. He said the UK needed people when it came to cyber skills and that parents should not feel guilty about letting their children in front of a screen for hours during their summer holidays.

Mr Hannigan was quoted as saying that “the assumption that time online or in front of a screen is life wasted needs challenging.”

The problem when we read stories like these is that they become very one sided. I don’t think anyone would advocate spending all your time indoors on a computer nor just playing outdoors and to completely forget a digital world exists.

Just like the salt in our food or cups of coffee, perhaps both need to happen in moderation?

This week we heard the story of Keiron Prescott who works as a professional online gamer. I think that’s great for Keiron. An older generation may not see this as a profession but the world is changing and we too need to change with it.

Games are no longer limited to the excitement of rolling the dice in Monopoly in the hope of buying Bond Street to complete your set of three. Games and adventures come in many shapes and forms.

Local teacher Stewart Harrison has been doing some great work with school students too. Six Year 11 Bayside students have just come back from a CyberFirst Futures course run by the UK National Cyber Security Centre. Competition for these places is tough and as part of the programme they explored advanced cyber security threats to devices, apps and software, and investigated methods of protecting them.

However, just at the same time the local scouting movement seems to be enjoying great success. Chief Commissioner Mark Rodriguez described Scouting in Gibraltar as being a truly vibrant and thriving organisation. Many of their activities I’m sure are outdoor pursuits.

So, do young people need to explore both the physical and digital worlds?

Children in the future will need to rely on different skills – however hanging out on Facebook may not necessarily equate to developing computing skills. Here too a balance is needed and not everyone will want to be a computer expert.

It’s important to develop problem solving and other skills but I don’t believe they necessarily have to come at the expense of children playing outdoors or interacting with people in face to face scenarios.

But, then again, I certainly don’t want to promote more time away from computers, it won’t be me risking the future of the country!

Perhaps we just need to come to terms that when it comes to children and growing up one size won’t fit all.

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