Screentime — It All Hangs In The Balance

I was told recently I’m a ‘Xennial’. Old enough to have lived a childhood free from the internet but young enough to have spent working life online (born between 1977–1983). I belong to Generation X (51 million), with Generation Y right behind me — of which 22 of the 70 million are now parents.

Is this the beginning of the end?

As Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) aptly put it;

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty five is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

I’m typical of Adams’ description — I count myself as technologically savvy (building my second tech start up), carved a career in the mobile gaming and apps industry, and life was ticking by just fine, until I gave birth to two Generation Zers. Highly sophisticated media consumers, these are the — born with an ipad in hand — generation (69 million). Check out the jargon explainer.

We LOVE Digital

Young People Love it We’ve built them fabulously designed, immersive, enriching worlds, endless videos to scroll through and learn from, connectivity at their fingertips, information on demand.

Parents Love it We do the same things they do online. We also get to have a babysitter on tap — for free — that allows us precious downtime, dinner dates in peace, it bails us out when we can’t recall homework facts, and great for sharing cute family or friend’s night out moments.

Then one day Boom! We spot the nuances only a parent can. Possibly heightened when you’re a Xennial parent — having observed the pre and post digital world.
But it’s Been Built for Adults
  • Transition to digital Independence: From 2-6 years the average child is protected online — we pre-select apps, games and websites, stay within safe spaces like Netflix or Youtube Kids to avoid any mishaps, inappropriate content and limit time. This changes aS early as 7 years to complete digital independence — tablets, smartphones, computers. The average 10 year old owns a smartphone. (35 million in the UK and US alone).
  • Blurred boundaries between school and home: School life no longer stays at school, being digitally connected with your class follows you home. This can be positive as you develop friendships, stay connected, have breaks from homework but also negative as it’s hard to switch off especially when something wrong has been shared. The average teen spends 9 hours a day online
  • The dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out): Its great to see them express digital creativity and staying connected but not so when they can’t get to sleep as their devices keep churning messages and flashing updates. Even the average stays up past 11pm so they don’t miss that last messaging app or game group chat. Only 15% of teens get the required 8–10 hours sleep.

Parent’s wrestle with enforcing rules as there are no standard go to guidelines, no regulatory framework to support them, and a wealth of opposing views around the impact of digital health on kids. The fallback? parental monitoring, negotiating or most often fighting or just taking the phone away. Young people are in a permanent state of mistrust, Parents in a state of fear, or worse still the guilt when overuse issues arise.

What the Experts say:

The Good 
This does not mean that technology use in general is harmful and it is difficult to make claims about how it will affect different people. For now, anyone thinking about how much time using screens and social media is “OK” will ultimately have to make a personal judgement. — Amy Orben, Researcher, University of Oxford

Parents (should) actively monitor the overall balance of activities in their child’s day, and ensure that time spent with media is actively interpreted and engaged with rather than passively absorbed. — American Academy of Pediatric

The Bad
Screen time is associated with higher levels of obesity, shorter attention spans and less sleep. The less children sleep, the greater the risk of them becoming obese. Lack of sleep can also affect their mood and behaviour. — NHS England

The Ugly 
We struggle with digital self control as adults. The average person checks their phone 85 times a day! But that’s just it. We’re adults. The digital world was built by us and addictiveness has been baked into the mechanics to keep eyeballs on screens. Children aren’t equipped for, nor taught, self control.

Support for Responsible Technology consumption

We need to develop a new social norm to support young people and their parents as they adopt digital independence.

Depriving, banning digital or monitoring children is not the answer. It will just serve to damage trust between you and young people will find a way to evade this warns Professor of Social Psychology at LSE, Sonia Livingstone.

Lisa Guernsey, co-author of Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens recommends looking at content, context and the individual child when imposing restrictions, while Common Sense Media evaluate games and apps for age-appropriateness and educational value.

Tristan Harris, pioneering a move away from addictive technology through the Centre for Humane Tech - joins a wave of silicon valley tech leaders who are focusing on more humane less addictive design.

Join the conversation in ‘Parenting In a WIRED World, a new Facebook Group for parents to discuss how to preserve kids’ mental and physical well-being, while encouraging a healthy relationship with technology.

Balance is key — Just like a nutritionist would advise on diet, we have to provide balance and alternatives. We need a healthy relationship with our devices.

Introducing Goozby

Goozby was built by a team that believes empowering young people with their own digital wellbeing is the answer.

Goozby is a digital buddy that sits on your device. Think of a reverse Tamagotchi. It is nurtured when you practice balanced digital habits, nudges you to take breaks and rewards staying on track with positive behaviour.

Develop good digital habits, for life:
· Sleep on time and take breaks when Goozby nudges you
· Spark the imagination with Goozby’s offscreen challenges
· Balanced behaviour lays you a Squegg — trade it in for real world prizes
· Goal setting and approved expert benchmarks on sleep and break times
· Develop JOMO (the joy of missing out)

Our founding team includes a panel of 50 UK school children that have helped with our design process. They love that it looks, feels and sounds like a game yet gets them to take a break. We’ve supported by a group of incredible advisors ranging from the Behavioural Scientists, Data Compliance and Ethics experts, and Gaming and Brand experts as we prepare for launch.

Goozby is on an ambitious mission to build fairer digital experiences for young people. If you’d like to learn more get in touch at or register here to be first to know when we’re ready.

Goozby was created in Zinc VC, a Tech-for-Good company builder, aiming to solve the developed world’s toughest social issues. Learn more about the 18 incredible companies being built to impact the lives of millions of people: Bold Health, Adia, Gilda, Project Kitchen Table, Amble, BetterSpace, Bolster, Dialoguers, Leika, Levell, ONiGO, Resilio, Squad, Tile, Trapeze, Uniq, Zentor, Zone.