GUIDING OUR CHILDREN TO HEALTHY USE OF THE INTERNET CAN HELP US REFINE OUR OWN USE
I RUN to work (this makes me both proud and smug, but this is not the place to expand on that).
It gives me an hour to myself each morning. My phone is at the bottom of my rucksack but I feel truly connected. Connected to real life.
My commute is a pleasure until the pedestrian traffic thickens, somewhere between Elephant and Castle and Waterloo. Then the phone zombies proliferate and I have to navigate not just for myself but for all of them. Even if they break from their tedious interactions as they shuffle along the pavement, they rarely register me. Or if they do, it doesn't occur to them to collate both of our trajectories to avoid a crash. The way people used to. I've given up shouting "LOOK" to give them time to play their part in a collision free passage. I just zigzag.
This is how some adults have been affected by constant connection with the internet, by the social media boom of the last 15 years. Think what it must be like if you've been hooked on screens since the age of three or even earlier.
This week the Children's Commissioner compared some children's use of the internet to bingeing on junk food. It's a comparison I've made before - studies link high use of the internet by under-14s with obesity, poor sleep and poor concentration at school. All symptoms of burger or fried chicken abuse. It's why I'm pleased to have ScreenLimit, the parental control app as one of our clients.
We work in an industry where social media and internet presence is vital - obviously you're reading this on a website. But it is the quality of that presence that is important.
When I finish my run and am showered and at my desk, I can turn my attention fully to my inbox. I can give people the replies they deserve. You can't run a business as you walk along a pavement. You end up moving slowly and inefficiently and sending shoddy communications. Multi-tasking is impossible. It's better to complete tasks individually in succession than to fly between them not giving your concentration the time warm to each task before abandoning it for a stab at the next one.
We can be good examples to our children while helping ourselves. Using the internet and social media efficiently gives us time to participate in real life fully, not to act as spectators of our own activities or real-time autobiographers.
Unless you want your children to grow up as outsiders, like the ones with no TVs who mums cut their hair, you can't ban them from going online.
The internet is not a good thing or a bad thing. It's as worthy as the people who use it. It has democratised knowledge and eased the dissemination of fake news. It's made it easier tell your mum you love her and to give a stranger a blast of racist or sexist or homophobic abuse. It's given great writers great platforms and terrible ones the same.
Massive money-making machines like Google and Facebook are not intrinsically evil but neither are they instinctively good. There's a level of dishonesty on the internet that's never far from the homepage. Like that tiny, faint x that makes it harder to shut down the adverts. Or the paid-for links at the bottom of ostensibly trustworthy outlets that promise you some sensational picture or tip or photo of a celebrity being caught looking like a real human before taking you on self-propelled safari of dull, illiterate picture captions to harvest low-quality high-volume clicks.
As adults we are equipped to see this for ourselves, and act accordingly. Some of us do. But most children can't do that and we need to make decisions for them. And by working out what's best for them, we might get a decent grasp of what is best for ourselves.