Psychologist Dr Tanya Byron has just released a remarkably sensible review on the effect of digital media on children, commissioned by the UK government.
Tanya Byron is great. She came to prominence as the resident psychologist on several UK TV parenting programmes but used evidence-based interventions, essentially demonstrating what a clinical psychologist would do if your child got referred for behaviour problems.
Most notably, she obviously knew her shit and is widely respected among clinical psychologists. Despite often being described as a ‘TV psychologist’ she remained working in the NHS at the coal face of clinical work.
She’s just published her review on the effects of the internet and computer games on children and has been remarkably level-headed in a time when the media loves ‘internet addiction’ and ‘computer games make killer kids’ stories.
BBC News has a video interview with her (skip to 1m20s to avoid the preamble). As well as refusing to soundbite the complexity of the issues, she’s not afraid to use uses phrases like “causal models of harm” and “research effects literature” in interviews. Go Tanya!
The full report [pdf] is long, and I’ve not read it all, but I really recommend reading the summary on pages 3-5. Here’s some key points:
4. …Overall I have found that a search for direct cause and effect in this area is often too simplistic, not least because it would in many cases be unethical to do the necessary research. However, mixed research evidence on the actual harm from video games and use of the internet does not mean that the risks do not exist. To help us measure and manage those risks we need to focus on what the child brings to the technology and use our understanding of children‚Äôs development to inform an approach that is based on the ‚Äòprobability of risk‚Äô in different circumstances.
5. We need to take into account children‚Äôs individual strengths and vulnerabilities, because the factors that can discriminate a ‚Äòbeneficial‚Äô from a ‚Äòharmful‚Äô experience online and in video games will often be individual factors in the child. The very same content can be useful to a child at a certain point in their life and development and may be equally damaging to another child. That means focusing on the child, what we know about how children‚Äôs brains develop, how they learn and how they change as they grow up. This is not straightforward ‚Äì while we can try to categorise children by age and gender there are vast individual differences that will impact on a child‚Äôs experience when gaming or online, especially the wider context in which they have developed and in which they experience the technology…
Her recommendations focus on the all too pressing point that kids often vastly outclass adults in understanding the technology and that parents are often not competent in being able to guide children as they’d wish.
Needless to say, Byron recommends that parents need support and guidance themselves in being able to regulate their children’s use of new technology.
From what I’ve read so far, it’s clear that Byron has understood both the psychological research and the technology. No mean feat in an age where commentators often demonstrate little except the fact that they are a bit baffled by this new fangled interweb thing.