Banning children from the internet is like ‘child abuse’, claims sociologist

Olivia Petter
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When it comes to children and screen time, parents have conflicting views.

While some would argue that allowing young kids to spend hours on digital devices - such as smartphones, tablets and laptops - is detrimental to their overall wellbeing, others might hail the educational and developmental benefits that these devices can offer young minds.

The latter is certainly the narrative upheld by sociologist Ellis Cashmore, whose forthcoming book Screen Society challenges the consensus that screen exposure is damaging for children and warns parents against banning the internet at home, claiming that it’s “tantamount to child abuse”.

Alongside researchers from Teesside University and the University of South Australia, Cashmore surveyed 2,000 internet users to gather data about the way we use screens and concurred that the risks to children are exaggerated and are actually superseded by the educational and social advantages.

Cashmore, who is an honorary professor of sociology at Aston University, Birmingham, believes that screens offer children an array of activities similar to that which they could be doing offline and that banning them could infringe upon their sociological development.

“Imagine if parents stopped children reading, watching and conversing with other children, or playing educational games, drawing, colouring, dancing. Kids do all these kind of things when engaged with screens,” he told The Independent.

“If parents prevent children pursuing these kind of activities offline, they would be accused of some form of abuse. They'd effectively be stunting the child's development.”

Cashmore argues that it’s important to note how today’s children are growing up in a world that is dominated by screens and therefore deprivation could be perceived as unusual.

“Screens are part of their reality,” he added. “Depriving them of the opportunity to mature is surely abusive."

Cashmore went on to explain that one of the biggest misconceptions parents have about digital devices is that they are addictive.

“We can potentially become dependent on anything and any activity: chocolate, sex, ironing ... But that's not addiction,” he said.

“We engage with our screen devices not because we're addicted but because we derive gratification from them. They are rewarding activities.”

With regards to social media trolls and concerns of exposing children to hateful and possibly abusive rhetoric online, Cashmore explained that this risk is often overstated.

“Trolling goes on, of course," he said, "but there's not a dedicated self-conscious cabal of trolls who dedicate themselves to making life hell for other people."