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article imageOp-Ed: Parents vs screens — A new phase?

By Paul Wallis     Oct 28, 2018 in Technology
New York City - Should kids spend so much time on screens? How much is too much? What are the better options? This argument has been spinning around for two decades, and not getting very far. A new phase is likely to deliver something, but what?
The new idea is basically “managing” screen time, and trying to increase screen-free times. There is no question of some idyllic screenless existence, which really isn’t at all likely. The irony is that now it’s the rich trying to get their kids off screens, while the poor are still “modernizing”. That’s pretty normal; the poor are usually one or two generations behind the rich in just about everything.
It’s a big issue, though, and it’s ongoing. Search “screen addiction”, and you’ll get 602 million results.
The case against screens
The parents do have a few things to worry about:
1. The psychologically addictive nature of screen media.
2. The sheer amount of time spent on screens, which can be truly huge, and consumes living time for kids.
3. “Persuasive design”, (gesundheit, hicks) which means influencing behaviour through media. (Sound familiar?)
4. The lack of “real world experience”, which ironically, also means dealing with a real world of people watching screens.
5. Loss or lack of screenless communication skills; an each way bet, but few people would argue that kids and communications are raw nerves in many ways.
6. The online risk factors, of which there are far too many, and about which nothing at all seems to be getting done, like mystic peer group relationships, bullying, phishing, etc., etc. and a lot of things parents have no reason to like.
7. Hideous bandwidth costs, not nice or helpful for many family budgets.
8. Obsessive behaviour with some screen apps, to the point of being psychological problems.
9. The extremely irritating habit of being onscreen and no longer in contact with people in the same room, which is rude, and remarkably dumb, in some ways.
10. The lack of productivity of being stuck on a screen for most of your childhood.
11. Antisocial, not to say truly weird in a bad way, sites and games are not exactly a big plus in modern life.
The theory of “digital wellness”, however, has a long way to go, even with valid arguments like these to work with.
Note: Before we go any further with this, nobody is suggesting that kids should be technologically illiterate, or join monasteries with no tech. The big deal is how to limit the risks and damage of the major negatives.
The case for screens
Screens, however, do have some real positive values:
1. Instant connection to parents and risk management.
2. Instant access to useful information.
3. The learning factor, in which kids learn to judge people and their information, sometimes the hard way, which is either priceless or pointless, depending on how you view technology as a learning tool.
4. Developing a full set of modern social skills, aka knowing the current social environment through experience.
5. Useful skills like gaming skills which are now considered good career and life skill builders for kids.
6. Real fluency with technology; how many times has it been quicker to ask a teenager to help with a phone or app rather than an adult?
7. Kids inevitably have to deal with technologies in so many forms. There’s not a lot to be said for any arbitrary “no go” zones, when so much more screen applied tech is arriving in the real world every second.
8. Incoming major new classes of tech, notably artificial intelligence, is a game changer for the whole argument. How do you predict what sort of screen time will be needed, what new dependencies, etc. are involved?. This argument holds that experience with screens makes you more adept, and less likely to get lost in the AI – ruled environment to come.
9. Fun. The fun factor on screens can’t be ignored. MMOs, competitive gaming, and new worlds by the score aren’t all bad. You could say screens do introduce kids to whole ideas of multiple, multi-level environments. RPGs and similar gaming skills are also good primers for real world scenarios, dealing with ogres, etc.
10. Better information skills, the ability to cross reference, get hard information, and quality assess information is critical, particularly in this insane era of Fake Everything Whether You Like It Or Not. Skepticism is a life skill. You could call it learning the ability to disbelieve just any old bit of disingenuous garbage, too.
11. Anti-boredom. Parents might agree that boredom is a risk for kids, in which the urge to “do something!” translates in to getting in to all types of difficult situations, and doing dumb things. That was a very big deal pre-screens, and it hasn’t gone away.
France is imposing a nationwide ban on mobile phones in schools to try to reduce distractions
France is imposing a nationwide ban on mobile phones in schools to try to reduce distractions
See, a nice, well balanced set of arguments in which everybody has the opportunity to get every single point wrong, or backwards, or whatever.
A few (hopefully balanced) observations
This issue is too big, and too important, to come up with a simplistic op-ed for the sake of proving myself right based on my own equally debatable theories and principles.
• Stress seems to be the common single denominator for all the major negatives on screens. Parents can pick stress easily, and pull the plug if necessary. That will at least also validate the move away from the screens, because it’s so obviously a better option.
• Good fun is healthy. Make the distinction. God knows happiness is rare enough in this world, and fun is a strong positive.
• The quick way to get a kid to do something else is to participate yourself. “Hey, that looks fun! Can I play? Can you teach me to….” The kids will be out in the yard in seconds, probably tactfully, but you can expect a move to something else, ASAP. They may invent a cure for something, based on doing it themselves, without parental intrusions. You’ll also contaminate the offending app in future simply because it’s something parents like.
• There’s a pretty good chance that a bright kid will be doing something bright on a screen. Make sure you know what is being done, and respect this sort of personal initiative.
• Screens can be like pocket money, based on bandwidth costs vs money in hand. Note the trade-off between hard cash and screen time. A good negotiating tool? Could be, because it’s very hard to argue with the source of your money.
• What if all this screen time is productive, and just doesn’t look like it? Find out what you’re talking about, before you prove yourself to be an idiot. Your own credibility is critical, when trying to convince a kid to do anything.
• Distractions are good, and there are opportunities. Some screens are, well, monotonous. You know what Super Mario is going to do. So do the kids, whether they admit it or not. A distraction in any form, with a sympathetic if preferably indirect “looks like you’ve grown out of that one” approach, will probably work.
• Don’t overlook achievements, particularly competitive achievements. This is how kids prove themselves to themselves. Don’t spoil it or denigrate it.
• The image of “dumb”. Kids do not like looking dumb. If something is babyish, or otherwise beneath them, they’ll move on.
Parents vs screens is about getting the good values, and eliminating the bad. Sound right?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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