Call CYFs!

Let’s talk about screen time but not in a shitty way

Lily Emerson, a classification advisor at the Office of Film & Literature Classification, has some advice about screen time. And before you run screaming – it’s not what you think.

It’s unavoidable. Screen time arguments – between the adults, or with the kids. Yep, just one more thing to look forward to this holiday season!

Many debates about screen time continually place the onus on parents and caregivers (and especially mothers) to drastically limit their children’s access to devices when, at times, those devices are the only thing keeping you from losing your mind.

As a millennial (albeit an old one) I should know – the moral panic around how long I eyeball a screen has been the subject of several billion reckons. And as a classification advisor at the Office of Film & Literature Classification (OFLC) I watch screens and consume content at a much higher rate than my allegedly device-addicted friends.

I grew up in an age before iPads on car trips. I was well into my schooling years before my parents had a VCR (YES A VCR). I still remember the annual drive from Auckland to Napier to see Dad’s parents: Two children, two adults, a car too crap for a radio, all slowly pushing each other to the brink of madness.

I also remember how much these trips changed when I became a teenager and iPods were just becoming a thing. The ability to shut myself off listening to Bikini Kill and ignore everyone around me was great.

You can see why I can get a little dubious about screen-time freak outs.

“Get the kids off their devices! Their mental and emotional health is at stake!” We’ve all heard it before.

Well, the OFLC is not here to tell you to wrest devices from your children against their will for their own good in order to have a Meaningful Christmas. We wouldn’t play you like that.

Instead, we want to offer you a resource. Maybe it’s a life preserver, maybe it’s a pool toy. We don’t know how choppy your ocean is or how well-heated your pool. But we do know that when asked about communication in their families, Kiwi teenagers consistently report that they wish they could talk to the adults in their lives more. And that when their parents and caregiver are asked the same question, they give the same response.

For the past couple of months, the OFLC has been working in partnership with some amazing people to create resources for parents and caregivers that offer realistic, easy to implement strategies aimed at helping you communicate with the young people in your life. These resources aren’t aimed at inducing guilt or telling you to be better: We know you’re doing the best you can. We know these conversations can be hard. We just want to put more tools in your toolbox, and make it easier for you to do the things you want to be doing already.

One of the people we’ve been collaborating with is Dr Sue Bagshaw. Sue suggests meal times as a great time to talk: “We know that people sitting around a table once a day is incredibly protective – halves binge drinking, halves suicidal ideation, halves smoking – really, really important is just a meal each day round the table. So [there are] lots of things that families can do, heaps of stuff, and they’re not necessarily difficult.”

Sue knows what she’s talking about. She’s been a doctor working in the youth health sector for 30 years. Her work has been essential to establishing medical services that young people actually want to participate in, and Sue has been the president of the New Zealand Association of Adolescent Development, as well as the president of the International Association of Adolescent Health. Sue now runs the Collaborative Trust, which undertakes research evaluation and training in Youth Health and Development, and is a senior lecturer at the University of Otago Christchurch School of Medicine.

Basically, she’s all that.

The videos feature Sue describing some more tools for starting conversations and asking questions that parents and caregivers can adapt to suit their own needs and situations.

None of this resource development would be possible without Dr Claire Henry, who works as a lecturer in digital media production at Massey University.

Claire initially connected with the OFLC through a common research interest in screen representations of sexual violence, following our reports on Young People Viewing Sexual Violence. Claire has written a book on sexual violence and responses to rape in contemporary global cinema, Revisionist Rape-Revenge: Redefining a Film Genre. She has also researched and taught courses on classification and censorship in the UK and Australia, including coordinating the Masters course Censorship: Film, Art & Media at the University of Melbourne last year – before joining the School of English and Media Studies at Massey.

The OFLC has been working with Sue and Claire over the past few months to put together a bunch of videos like the ones above, designed to help parents and caregivers start important conversations with young people about their lives, the issues they face, and the media that they consume

Please continue to watch this space. These are the first in a series of helpful videos featuring Sue – and others – that we’ll be rolling out in the New Year. I’ll share more on The Spinoff Parents about this in 2018.

In the meantime, Happy Holidays. You’ve earned them.

Lily Emerson is a classification advisor at the OFLC. In her previous lives she has worked in a sex shop, written an MA in history, and taught at the University of Auckland. Lily moved to Wellington in 2016 to become a professional feminist and feels like she’s hit her stride.

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