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Has Digital Killed Play: Part 2 – The Place of Digital in Play

So are children playing less because of the widespread adoption of digital devices? Two recent research studies carried out by FK&Y show not. Despite concern about the time children spend online, there is evidence to show that parents are taking a sensible view of the place of digital in their children’s lives. The IKEA Play Report was carried out in 2015 by FK&Y in 12 countries and interviewed nearly 30,000 parents, children aged 7-12 and young people aged 13 to 18. FK&Y’s recent research for the charity Techknowledge for Schools interviewed over 7,000 young people aged 7 to 18 in the UK about their use of the internet. These two studies demonstrate that children are communicating in the way they always have, with their families, with their friends, but they are doing so in a different context. Digital activity does not only involve play, creativity and communication through a wide variety of imaginative and challenging apps, but it can enhance children’s ability to express themselves, act out difficult emotions and feel empowered by finding out information for themselves.

Both the Techknowledge for Schools research and the Play Report show that children are playing a wide variety of games online, often involving collecting, changing and adapting scenarios to suit what they want to do, and communicating with friends and family. As an 11 year old girl taking part in the Play Report told us in Sweden:

“Myself and Emelie, my cousin, play on FaceTime. She lives in Stockholm and I live in Skovde, but it feels like we are in the same place.”

But parents face a dilemma. There is evidence to show that parents are sometimes too busy or preoccupied to play with their children. 47% of children aged 7-12 in the IKEA Play Report would like their parents to spend more time playing with them (compared to 38% in 2009). Half (51%) of children aged 7-12 say ‘my parents always seem to be in a rush’. And (31%) of parents agree that ‘when I play with my children I am often too stressed to enjoy it’ (25% in 2009). And while communication in families takes place as it always has, it is often through social media. 23% of parents and 23% of 13-18 year olds, and 17% of 7-12 year olds agree ‘Sometimes I only talk to my family at home through text messaging or social media’. And two in five parents and young people would like to talk face to face as a family more.

So has play been replaced with a preoccupation with digital? Parents, teachers and child experts express alarm at the amount of time children are spending online, and certainly there is evidence to show that obsessive use of digital is unhealthy for children both physically and mentally. But digital can also be a shared activity. The Play Report found that 95% of UK parents report regularly using media devices as a family, and around half (52%) of parents agree ‘play can include using Tablets, smartphones or computers’. Importantly, 85% (Index: 71%) of UK parents think that home should be a place for fun and play. Increasingly it seems parents and children themselves are setting boundaries. 72% of parents and 43% of children and young people agree: ‘I think there should be times at home when we don’t use our mobile devices’.

Digital has changed play, it can lead to creative and imaginative worlds being enacted online and it frequently includes communicating in this way with friends and family. But both children and parents are recognising the importance of face to face communication and play away from digital devices, and the need to ensure play is “entered into voluntarily and is lacking in external force or compulsion”. This is essential for the wellbeing of children and family life.

Dr Barbie Clarke, Managing Director of Family, Kids & Youth, is a trained child and adolescent therapist. Her PhD at Cambridge was in child and adolescent psychosocial development and much of her work has looked at the digital world of young people.

Hashtags and emojis – How social media influences children’s use of language

The internet and social media are having a profound impact on how children communicate and express themselves, offline as well as online. While it is often assumed that social media and text speech will have a detrimental effect on young people’s communication skills, others argue that children use these new additions to the English language in a creative and innovative way. Oxford University Press recently announced ‘hashtag’, the term for the symbol ‘#’ used to tag posts on social media, as children’s word of the year. The decision was based on analysis of 120,421 short stories written by children under 13 for the 500 Words competition, run by Oxford University Press and BBC Radio 2.
The symbol is most commonly associated with social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. According to Ofcom, 36% of children 12-15 used Instagram in 2014 and 28% used Twitter. Oxford University Press however argues that the use of ‘hashtag’ has grown out of its origin and is now used widely by children in both written and spoken offline communication. Hashtags were used extensively in children’s stories for dramatic effect, to increase tension or add comment or emphasis to a story or statement. The influence of social media and technology was also evident in other aspects of children’s stories. Bloggers, vloggers and Youtubers featured in several stories, as did online trolls and selfies.
Host of the 500 Words competition Chris Evans said children “are so often at the forefront of both adopting, and adapting to, new language trends and using them in all manner of inventive ways.”
Emojis are another interesting aspect of children’s online communication. The use of emojis has grown rapidly in recent years and Professor Vyv Evans from Bangor University claims it is evolving faster than ancient languages such as hieroglyphics. Professor Evans has recently been working with TalkTalk to understand how people use emojis to communicate and found that eight out of ten adults in the UK have used emojis. Evans further found that 72% of 18-25 year olds sometimes find it easier to communicate their feelings and thoughts using emojis rather than words. This is likely to also be the case for younger children, some of whom may still find written communication difficult.
The popularity of emojis has also been harnessed by brands in efforts to reach the Generation Z demographic, loosely defined as children born after the turn of the century who grew up in an increasingly digitally connected world. As smartphones and other mobile devices become more prolific the use of emojis in marketing communication has become more common. According to eMarketer there are now nearly two billion smartphones users in the world, and young people are at the forefront of these trends. In 2014 20% of 8-11 year olds and 65% of 12-15 year olds owned a smartphone, according to Ofcom.
Emojis are also believed to help children communicate difficult feelings. A Swedish children’s rights charity recently created a set of emojis depicting people suffering from domestic violence in the hope that these will help children who otherwise will feel unable to communicate their feelings and seek help. The charity BRIS (Children’s Rights in Society) says it hopes the emojis will “make it possible for kids and young people to talk about situations where they felt bad or wrongly treated without having to put words on the situation.” By transcending language barriers, emojis such as these can also be used across different countries, or by children with limited language abilities.
Although trends in digital technology are often presumed to be global there are many local nuances to how children and adults use social media. A recent report by keyboard software provider SwiftKey found that the use of emojis varies depending on geographic location. The report found that French mobile users post four times as many heart emojis as the global average, while Arabic users are four times as likely to use flowers or plant emojis. Russians were found to use three times as many romantic emojis whereas Americans posted the most skulls, birthday cakes and LGBT emoji. Not surprisingly, happy faces were the most commonly used emoji, making up 45% of all emoji use.
Social media and mobile technology will no doubt continue to influence how children and young people communicate. For those of us who work with children the challenge then becomes how we communicate with them in order to maximise their opportunity to express themselves and have their voices heard.
Siv Svanaes is Associate Director at Family Kids & Youth

2015 Volunteers’ Week and the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

Volunteering among young people is increasing, and the government’s ‘Step Up to Serve’ campaign has encouraged this. Volunteers’ Week is an annual event that takes place on 1-7 June, celebrating the contribution of millions of volunteers across the UK. The event is run by NCVO in partnership with Development Scotland, Volunteer Now and Wales Council for Voluntary Action. Events take place throughout the country showcasing the different volunteering roles on offer, taster sessions and team challenges as well as award ceremonies and launching new volunteering campaigns.
This week also marks the announcement of the winners for the 2015 Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. This year, 187 voluntary groups have received the award, which is a 60% increase since last year. This increase demonstrates the thriving nature of the voluntary sector and its ambition to tackle community challenges. Amongst the winners were Ablaze, a charity that recruits volunteers from the business sector to enter schools in disadvantaged areas and provide additional help with childrens’ learning. The charity has been immensely successful, improving the education of thousands of children with the help from 2,000 regular volunteers.
Hannah Wenban, Research Executive, FK&Y

More children reading for fun

According to an annual survey carried out by the National Literacy Trust, an increasing number of children are reading for fun in their spare time. The report surveyed 32,000 children between 8 and 18 years old. 40% of children said they thought reading was ‘cool’ and 41% said they read daily outside school, up from 32% in the previous year. The research suggests that there are persistent differences between boys and girls, with 47% of girls saying they read daily outside school, compared with 36% of boys. More than half of all children said they preferred watching television to reading. In addition to books, children are also reading other media, such as websites, comics, song lyrics and emails.

Report claims exam results improve with school ban on mobile phones

A report by the London School of Economics found that a ban on mobile phones in schools can positively impact exam results. The authors argue that despite the benefits mobile technology offers, phones are often a distraction for young people and can reduce productivity. Schools in four British cities were monitored and results showed that exam results increased by 6% in schools that had introduced bans on mobile phones. Low-achieving and low-income students were found to benefit most from a ban. The authors suggest that banning mobile phones equates to students having an extra hour a week in school. FK&Y’s research for the educational charity Techknowledge for Schools (previously Tablets for Schools) has found that in schools that are using one-to-one mobile devices for learning, teachers need to manage the possibility for distraction. These schools also feel that learning how to regulate the use of technology is a crucial skill for young people to learn.

Online manners more important than computer skills

Schools should be teaching children how to behave online before they teach computing skills such as coding, according to American cyber law expert Parry Aftab during a presentation at Facebook’s international headquarters in Dublin. Aftab argued that digital devices increase children’s opportunities to act impulsively and without consideration for the consequences of their actions, thus creating long lasting problems for some. Aftab expressed particular concern for young people taking intimate photos and sharing them, without considering the potential ramifications of this. She further suggested that children should be taught to consider both their digital footprint, and what content they want to share online. In addition to education, Aftab suggested that websites where children can seek advice anonymously may help those who lack the confidence to consult their parents or a friend.

Study finds link between television viewing and obesity

A strong link between childhood obesity and television viewing has been found in a study presented to the Pediatric Academic Societies in the US. The study found that Nursery and Primary age children who watched at least one hour of television a day are 50% more likely to be overweight. These children were also found to be far more likely to be obese. The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that children watch no more than two hours of television a day, but the researchers behind the report suggest that these guidelines may need to be reviewed. The research found no correlation between computer use and body mass index. While the research only found a correlational link between television viewing and obesity, and does not discuss the cause of this relationship, the authors suggest that a reduced amount of energy expenditure, a decrease in sleep and increased opportunities for food consumption are likely contributors.

Family time found to have a positive impact on teenagers’ wellbeing and behaviour

A longitudinal study which followed 1,600 children internationally found that once they reach adolescence the opportunity to spend six hours or more a week with family had a significant impact on their wellbeing, behaviour and academic performance. The researchers analysed time diaries kept by the children and their parents to find out how ‘time together’ influenced the children’s wellbeing. Time diaries were collected when the children were 3 to 11 years old and again when the children were 12 to 17 years old. Results found that the amount of time spent with parents had no influence on the child’s wellbeing between the ages 3 and 11. With this age group the mother’s self-reported stress level was the strongest predictor of the child’s wellbeing. When children reached adolescence however an average of 50 minutes of family time a day was found to be associated with higher academic performance and lower levels of negative behaviour.

Debate about children playing computer games

A new study from Oxford suggests that games are not all bad, but parents should pay close attention to the amount of time children play computer games. The study has found that children who play computer games for less than an hour a day are likely to be less aggressive, more sociable, have fewer emotional problems and do better at school than their peers, performing better at school than classmates who never played computer games. However children spending more than three hours a day are likely to be hyperactive and more aggressive. The research, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media and carried out at the Oxford Internet Institute, studied 200 children aged 12 and 13.
Headteachers of 16 schools in Cheshire issued a statement last weekend saying they would consider reporting parents to social services for neglect if their children were found to be playing games such as Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War and Call of Duty, which are rated for over 18s. The group, which consists of 15 primary schools and one secondary school, said playing these games and accessing websites and apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp could lead to ‘early sexualised behaviour’ and make children vulnerable to ‘extreme violence’. Several parenting groups criticised the statement, arguing that parents should instead be encouraged and helped to communicate with their children about the appropriate use of media. Video game writers argued that age ratings are not always an accurate indicator of whether a media product is appropriate for children, and that there therefore needs to be a more nuanced debate. Others highlighted research finding that parents tend to react more strongly to children watching adult rated movies compared with video games.
Last year FK&Y carried out research for the educational charity Tablets for Schools which found that many under-16s do not think playing adult rated games is a problem.

Children’s perception of favouritism affects their behaviour

Research has found that when children believe their parents favour another sibling this affects their behaviour. American psychologist Alex Jensen found that teenagers who believed they were receiving less favoured treatment were more likely to ‘act out’ and get into trouble. These young people were, for example, more likely to have tried alcohol, cigarettes and drugs compared with other teenagers. Jensen however found that family dynamics influence whether young people who feel they are treated less favourably rebel. In families that portrayed what he described as ‘close-knit relationships and less fighting’ the research found no link between perceived favouritism and acting out.

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