I was recently listening to an NPR On Point podcast episode from a woman who wrote a book on how parents can tackle the onslaught of smart technology that has immersed our children the last decade and ways to achieve a harmonious balance. The moderator brought on child psychologists as well as took calls from parents offering and soliciting advice. Since we have covered screen addiction on NPE Radio episodes and I have been quite candid as a high school teacher to the pernicious effects of smart devices on the learning of children, I wanted to mention some of the episode’s more salient points.
All those involved stated that we first must not label smart devices as either inherently “good” or “bad.” But rather like fire, it may be quite useful when properly controlled or highly destructive when not. The key is balance. All agreed, not surprisingly, that unregulated screen time is HIGHLY destructive to the development of the child, either in the form of solitary gaming, TV watching, or app playing. When doing these activities the parents need to supervise and elaborate and clarify as to what is going on on the screen.
For example, the psychologist mentioned that don’t allow a child to watch a movie alone, but rather watch it together so you can provide comments, context, and nuance to the scenes which either may be difficult to understand or disturbing to a young mind. This comment reminded me of my children’s viewing of the classic movie ET last week. Instead of just putting it on and going to do something else in another room, I wanted to explain to them them the movie, its charms, and help my daughter through the scarier moments. Takeway: More shared viewing over isolated viewing.
The experts state that we must be consistent in our modeling of smart phone usage. In short, we tell our kids to get off of them, yet they see us on them all the time. Why would they listen to us when we are clearly being hypocritical? In their minds, they might not understand that we could be on the computer or phone for work reasons. But even if it isn’t for work and it is instead for being on our own favorite social media apps, why should the kids listen to us? They don’t have a developed mind to understand the difference.
They suggest that you check your emails or peruse the Internet when the kids are busy playing or simply elsewhere. We don’t want to be ensconced in our closet hiding, but at the same time if we are serious about curtailing our kids’ use of smart devices, we must make a concerted effort to do it away from them as much as possible. Takeway: we must “practice what we preach” for consistency.
The experts suggest that we use incentives and/or couponing to teach kids how to ration their usage. For example, some parents called in stating they allow Saturday to be a relaxing, screen-filled day, but during the week, their kids may only use their devices for 3 30-minute windows. The parents give them coupons of which they kids may reimburse them anytime (aside from sleep time) to use the device. However, they may only use it 3 times in a week so the child learns to ration his/her time. Other parents say you may have one charge a week. They charge it up on Sunday and once it is all used-up you can’t use it until the following Sunday. Both are a great way to teach kids responsibility and self-restraint while at the same time not coming off as a tech-zero Luddite. Takeaway: Implement some sort of incentive program.
Content Over Time
One of the most salient points by the experts and callers is that time spent is not necessarily as important as the content watched. Indiscriminant viewing of TV, games, Youtube videos and alike is essentially junk food ingestion; whereas, educational games is proper nutrition. But what are appropriate educational games? Clearly, games that improve math and/or reading skills are paramount, but apps that foster other skills are equally valuable. These would include painting, flight simulation, building, clothing/jewelry design and other games. These must be monitored and limited within means of course, but at least they spark the imagination of the child and might lead to resume-building discernible skills. You can’t say the same for Netflix watching. Takeaway: Choose constructive, skill-building applications over indiscriminate viewing.
These are a few takeaways from the episodes. Most parents in today’s America honestly are grappling with finding a proper balance with technology. Many parents are wrought with guilt when they give their kids a tablet for some downtime. Others ban them completely (like Steve Jobs. Click HERE to listen to that NPE Radio episode).
It is a perilous time. So little longitudinal studies exist showing the effects of screens of a growing brain. The Iphone only came out 10 years ago. This generation will be the first one who will grow up with these screens. Their effects may not be seen for 10-20 years. Perhaps on some levels it will enhance our children’s cognition; perhaps it will stifle it. It may be too soon to know, but cautious, expedient application of screens is likely the most prudent route.
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