When we add up the hours spent watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet, it appears that children spend more screen time than on school benches. For the age group between 1 year and 6 years, the digital consumption has tripled since 2011, going from 2 hours to more than 6 hours per week.
Faced with this situation, most parents are worried about the effects of these uses. The invasive presence of screens in the home has also become one of the major sources of tension in the relationship between parents and children. Hungry for advice limit screen time which they consider too important, parents are nevertheless faced with contradictions that are difficult to circumvent: they themselves spend an average of 4 hours a day reading their emails, browsing the news feed of their social networks and watching series in streaming.
This management of screen time is coupled with doubts and deep concerns fueled by the nature of the digital content consulted by their children. More generally, parents are exposed to a deep sense of loss of authority insofar as knowledge transmission models are revisited in the digital yardstick; teenagers often prove to be more competent than their parents to understand the new uses of virtual goods.
However, the deleterious effects of screens on children are widely documented in the academic literature: impacts on physical and mental health (loss of sleep, excess weight, difficulty concentrating, etc.), on school performance and on interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, their consequences for parents are rather overlooked, whereas they generate stress, poor self-esteem and loss of confidence in their personal effectiveness as educators, responsible for the well-being and future of their children.
The issues of parental well-being
Focused primarily on the medical field, the wellness concept has extended to whole swathes of human existence, involving activities such as sport, leisure or even food. However, defining well-being is relatively complex.
Concretely, academic works in economics and positive psychology distinguish two approaches to well-being. Objective well-being focuses on quality of life. It is measured using indicators such as the poverty rate, level of education or health risks. Subjective well-being refers to each individual's evaluation of their own existence and translates into "feeling happy". Subjective well-being articulates a hedonic well-being and eudemonic:
The first fluctuates according to occasional experiences that generate pleasure and has three dimensions: the satisfaction felt by the individual in relation to his life, positive emotional feelings, such as pleasure, and the absence of negative feelings;
Eudaemonic well-being is deeper and more lasting, it is based on a commitment to meaningful activities for the individual, conducive to the acquisition of skills, to a good self-esteem and to the existence of social ties.
Within the domestic sphere, well-being is little investigated, even though the family is perceived by young people as a source of fulfillment and reinsurance. At the same time, the media relay this difficulty in being "a good parent" and point to the increasing complexity of the conditions for exercising parenthood within the home with the arrival of digital technology, undoubtedly legitimizing a rethinking of this parenthood through the welfare.
In order to ensure their well-being, parents have recourse to technological tools: parental control software, automatic storage of the child's online activities, protection of personal data. These devices are intended to protect their children in an automated way without having the feeling of having to turn into spies or bodyguards.
These solutions are relevant to preserve the well-being of parents because they tend to erase the negative feelings of adults but they often result in ultimatums, generate negotiations or even conflicts. Feeling watched in their private space, adolescents adopt avoidance strategies that establish relationships of mistrust and, ultimately, affect the relationship between parents and children.
Therefore, it seems essential to communicate by adopting a two-step process. First of all, it is a question of encouraging children to share their knowledge and know-how in order to create a link around the screens. To promote harmonious cohabitation with screens in homes, parents have no choice but to review conventional models of transmission. First of all accept that the transfer of skills can be upwards with children able to explain the functionalities of digital tools to them.
Once the technological barrier has been crossed, it is up to parents to take responsibility for educating their child in the rules of digital technology and in the use they make of the various screens, in particular by controlling the content viewed. These exchanges of information and these sharing of knowledge around digital technology must contribute to their hedonic well-being.
In a second step, it is a question of communicating to regulate the practices applicable by all the members of the family. The establishment of specific rules (such as the prohibition to use screens at the table or in the room) and the limitation of connection times can be discussed with the family in order to achieve a balanced use adapted to each age.
Parents – often over-connected – are therefore invited to reflect on their own practices and the models they represent in the eyes of their children. Implementing these educational measures accepted by both parents and children is undoubtedly a way to promote well-being.
The omnipresence of screens in homes results in an excess of rather individual digital activities, not conducive to exchange and sharing. It is then a question of reinforcing the eudemonic well-being of the parents by promoting common activities around the screens to reduce tensions and reinstate the digital in its role of mediator of social links.
Another possibility, spending time off screen by carrying out activities that ensure well-being. The health crisis has been rich in lessons on the ability of families to reinvent relationships in the home and build a harmonious bubble between parents and children. The ensuing periods of confinement prompted most families to revisit activities within the home.
Withdrawn into the domestic sphere, which has temporarily become the only space for sociability, parents and children have (re)learned to spend quality time together. board games, cake making, sports or manual activities, so many moments conducive to sharing, the transmission of skills and sources of positive emotions and feelings of personal effectiveness.
Achieving a balance between well-being and parenthood today is a real challenge, given the many societal pressures and contradictions. But many solutions exist and well-being seems to go through regaining control of parental authority but also by seeking a balance between digital and non-digital activities so as not to multiply very fleeting pleasures which, on a long time, do not necessarily make you happy.
Caroline Rouen-Mallet, Teacher-researcher in marketing, IAE Rouen Normandy - University of Rouen Normandy; Pascale Ezan, university professor - consumer behavior - food - social networks, Le Havre Normandy University et Stephane Mallet, Teacher-researcher in marketing, IAE Rouen Normandy - University of Rouen Normandy
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