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Why are so many young people glued to their smartphones? Does gaming have a negative impact on adolescent development? Are the effects of sex in the media necessarily all bad? Many parents wonder whether they should protect children against their own media consumption habits, and if so, how to go about it.

Boekomslag Patti Valkenburg

In her new book Schermgaande jeugd, to appear on Wednesday, 19 November, UvA University Professor of Media, Youth and Society Patti Valkenburg discusses the latest developments in terms of media consumption and appeal and the resulting effects on children. She also offers some practical tools for parents seeking to offer their children a proactive media education.

The good and the bad

Valkenburg demonstrates that most children benefit from the latest generation of screen-based media: their cognitive and social skills develop, and friendships and self-confidence are stimulated. However, a small group experiences less positive effects. These children tend to experience concentration problems and engage in high-risk online behaviour. They are bullied, or become addicted to gaming or social media. They can also become aggressive and belligerent as a result of violent games.

Five per cent of all young people are addicted to gaming. ‘Gaming tends to be confused with pathological gaming in the social debate,’ Valkenburg points out. ‘It's important to make a clear distinction between the two, as gaming has very different social effects on game addicts and normal users. In general, gaming is linked to lower rates of loneliness, whereas pathological gamers often tend to be lonely and become more isolated as their addiction grows.’ 

Prevent children from forming habits

Teenagers generally do not take well to any interference in their media consumption patterns. They view this aspect of their lives – like friends and clothing – as part of their personal domain. As a result, many parents have difficulty regulating their teenage children's screen behaviour. Valkenburg's book culminates in a series of recommendations, based on scientific research. ‘It takes self-control to withstand the appeal of smartphones, games and apps. If you want to help your child in this process, it's best to opt for a style of upbringing that stimulates their sense of autonomy.’ 

This will require clear agreements on behaviour that reflect the child's development level. It's also crucial to enforce these agreements consistently. ‘For example: no devices at the table during dinner and no phones after a specific time in the evening. Preferably, you should make such agreements before the child purchases the smartphone, game or app,’ Valkenburg stresses. She also emphasises the importance of preventing children from forming habits. ‘During the childhood years, media consumption – like many other forms of behaviour – can quickly become a habit. Once these patterns have formed, they can be very difficult to break. Parents seeking to give their teenagers a proactive media education should make sure they don't become accustomed to the idea of being accessible at all times.’ 

Publication details

Patti Valkenburg: Schermgaande Jeugd. Over Jeugd en Media (Prometheus, November 2014). Paperback, ISBN 978 90 351 4268 8, €22.95.