Embracing the good and avoiding the bad

22 January 2021

Raising a Screen Smart Kid by public health professional Julianna Miner looks at the effects of the entertainment industry on the mental health of schoolchildren. The book starts with a resonant and eye-opening account of how different parenting is now compared to our own childhoods due to how integral technology has become. We now live in a social media driven world. 

With increased internet access, parents can be concerned about online bullying and other cyber hazards like pornography, sexting in chat rooms, catfishing and impersonation, coercion, manipulation, solicitation and blackmail such as sextortion, and violent gaming. As promulgated in the recent show, I Hate Suzie (NowTV) starring Billie Piper, these can cause aggression, depression, stress and anxiety which detrimentally impact sleep, eating habits, academic performance, friendships and so on. 

Each chapter commences with the case study of an adolescent who Miner has interviewed in relation to a specific topic such as self-image. Chapters conclude with practical tips grounded in psychology theory and research evidence, offering relatable and useful suggestions on how to progress.

Bullying can occur after school when a victim is physically distanced from their perpetrator. Perpetrators are prone to online disinhibition as they are able to say, anonymously, things that they would not say in real life due to social desirability. A child can be a virtual victim of ostracism, social comparison, objectification and isolation, for example, by degrading memes or exclusion from a WhatsApp group or Facebook event. Such bullying could lead to post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED), suicide ideation and even death. Miner does not shy away from these difficult topics and theories of emotional contagion, as well as disconcerting coping mechanisms due to a fear of missing out (FOMO) which include children and young people resorting to substance misuse in order to combat psychological and physiological difficulties. 

Miner emphasises that the ever-evolving cyber landscape profoundly impacts everyone, regardless of an individual’s neurodevelopment. On the one hand, those with autistic or attention-deficit issues might struggle with time management or may be triggered by the inappropriate content they see on explicitly rated sites. On the other hand, there is advice and encouragement on Instagram and Twitter that can be a comfort to those who might find it difficult to integrate and form friendships with their peers in person, enabling inclusivity. Miner additionally provides insight into how online forums can help young people with gender dysphoria or identifying as LGBTQI+. 

Finally, Miner considers the benefits of modern technology with regards to social connectedness. During the pandemic and lockdowns, many have found a haven in online communities and have been able to keep in touch with loved ones via social media. Counselling and mindfulness therapies are more readily available as a result of online video sessions via FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. Adults can counteract negative mindsets, interact positively with their children and promote the development of the socioemotional and educational skills of future generations. 

- Reviewed by Chrissie Fitch, MBPsS, Distance Learning Assessor and Trainee IQA, Oxbridge Ltd, and Joelaine Fitch, Consultant, Deloitte Digital, E: [email protected]; T: @fitchy_chris.