Binge watching is becoming normal for children

A recent survey by Kapersky Lab, a cybersecurity company, which surveyed more than 3,700 families in seven countries, found that whereas parents used to be the first port of call for children seeking answers to questions or advice, 23% of the parents surveyed said their children now preferred to go online, and 31% felt that the internet isolated them from their children.

The research also found that 42% of parents were not friends with their children on social networks, and 18% said this was because their children would find it embarrassing.

Of those surveyed, 21% of parents and 22% of children said the internet could cause family tension. While it did not include South Africa, Dr Craig Blewett, senior lecturer in information systems and technology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the survey reflected findings in similar studies in Africa that “parents have become strangers to their children and bonding has been lost” because of the “Facebook culture” that had developed.

However, Blewett cautioned that the research had to be looked at in perspective as nearly 70% of people in the Kapersky study did not feel that social media isolated them from their children.

“Care needs to be taken in being too quick to blame the internet for all our social issues,” he said.

He said that another serious problem was society’s fixation with content consumption, whether it be on social media, gaming or watching TV.

“In 2015, Collins dictionary chose 'binge-watch' as the word of the year, because of people’s addiction to watching hours of TV

programmes. This is having more than just an impact on relationships, it’s impacting how children learn.”

Durban clinical psychologist Diante Fuchs said while there was a “disconnect” when children turned to Google rather than their parents for information, the internet was a valuable resource, particularly for topics that children felt uncomfortble talking to their parents about.

She said while social media had pitfalls in that they affected social relationships negatively and changed the ways in which people communicated, they also allowed for easier connections, especially across long distances.

“Parents need to be aware of the pitfalls and create firm boundaries,” Fuchs said.

Blewett offered these tips for those who wanted to have more control over their internet usage:

Invest time in relationships just as you would invest time in anything else you want to grow and develop.

Set boundaries that apply to children and parents alike. For example, no device use at dinner time.

Use free parental control software such as Ourpact.

Encourage active rather than passive uses of technology, such as creating blogs and videos.