There have been a myriad of posts in recent days concerning inappropriate content being exposed to young toddlers and children via a number of online app. We spoke to Danae Gingell, a Clinical Psychologist and a mum of two young girls to get an expert view on what the risks are and how best to avoid them.
Currently there are a lot of articles going round on international media about certain inappropriate content being injected in seemingly innocent children’s videos on YouTube. Is this also a risk in Malta?
I think the risk is definitely applicable to Malta as we have just as much social media, YouTube and screen use as our international cohorts. I do not feel the need to lecture anyone about whether they allow their child to make use of tablets, iPads or screen time in general. I appreciate as much as any parent, the value that comes from a few quiet moments while your child watches a screen. The concerns I have are with the content the child is viewing, especially in light of the recent appearance of some very unsavoury content.
What is the effect on children who are exposed to such inappropriate content?
In my experience, long periods of screen time impacts a child’s mood, attention and focus as well as social skills and creativity. I speak both as a mother and a professional as I have observed this both at home as well as at work. By adding the inappropriate content to the mix, the negative effect on children only grows. As a result of the recent inappropriate content that has popped up on YouTube, I have had several conversations over the last 2 days with parents about their children’s reactions. Many parents opted to show the images to their children and most told me that their child reacted with fear or disgust – this is after a few seconds of exposure, let alone the impact of repeated exposure, or worse still, interaction with the images. Exposure to this kind of content can evoke fears in children, especially those around the age of 4 and 5, where the fear of the dark and death all become more apparent. Older children who have a better understanding of what the images may represent are also prone to developing fears specifically because their imagination is more developed.
Why do children have such an interest in online content and apps like YouTube?
I read an article recently because I asked myself the same question…why are kids so engrossed in these online worlds? The idea of being in control of what they watch comes from a need that they develop as they grow; a need for independence and being able to exert control in a world where they have very little say in what they get to do because their parents usually decide for them. The ever changing content also satisfies the need for instant gratification which is very evident in children, especially our children who are growing up in a highly digitized world. A very good article is https://www.kidspot.com.au/parenting/child/child-behaviour/my-son-is-obsessed-with-watching-other-kids-on-youtube/news-story/5ce4b970a004a3b3cc54a01eab96bb79
What is your advice to parents who think their children have been exposed to such content?
I believe in being transparent and up front with my clients and my children. I believe in creating a space where children feel safe and comfortable enough to have a conversation where they are able to express their fears and concerns without running the risk of being told “I told you not to watch” or “You shouldn’t have opened that!” I am aware that these conversations may not be easy to have and could evoke worries and fears in parents, as these are my thoughts too. I suggest that parents educate themselves about the kind of content their children are being exposed to so that a conversation can be more easily had. If parents suspect their children have been exposed, I suggest listening to your child, empathising with their worries and helping them to process whatever they have seen. Making light of the situation, dismissing it or minimising it may alleviate the child’s fears momentarily but it may also give them the message that the feelings they are expressing are not worthy of a discussion.
What is your advice to parents to avoid the risk of their children being exposed to such content?
Some parents I have spoken to have removed apps like YouTube from their devices altogether, others have locked the app and others, myself included, have opted for other screen options like Netflix or simply letting them watch whatever comes on their preferred TV channel, while you keep the remote control. I suggest monitoring your child’s viewing both in content as well as length of time and I also recommend being curious about your child is watching so that you can ask them questions about it and get some insight into their worlds.