Walk Away From That Screen, Kid!

The explosion of screens in our lives has been unprecedented in terms of the speed that things have happened. As a result, there are a lot of uncertainties about the implications, how much (or whether) screen use should be controlled.

This is an interesting summary of the current viewpoints in the USA, the first of two articles from New York Times, tied to a PBS broadcast on the subject;

NYTimes – Well – Blog – Screen Addiction Toll On Children

The first thing that struck me was that, for such a fast developing phenomenon, the data cited isn’t up to date enough. My guess is that if similar data was gathered today, it would reveal even more stark findings and extremes of what’s happening. In terms of the impact all this is having on children we really are in a very uncertain place – there just is no precedent for anything like it before.

For a number of years I was one of the (few?) parents who worked to keep a daily limit on screen time. The positives that came out of that were that my son read more, played outside more and, I believe, spent more time interacting with and reflecting upon the real world around him. The downsides were; his perceptions that he was wronged because he was the only one in his peer group subject to such rules, temptation to dishonesty and breaches of trust to find ways to circumvent the rules. Just as alcoholics will go to extraordinary lengths to get hold of drink, to conceal it and consume it, so the latent technology addict latches on to all sorts of spurious justifications. One of the simplest against a parent is the accusation that because they spend time with technology, so they have no right to limit the child’s. The fact that one is using it for work related email, research, report preparations, spreadsheets, writing etc. while the other uses it for mindless gaming and social chatter is apparently neither here nor there.

As my son got older it was inevitable that the trade off of asking him to take more responsibility in his own life would come with less sense in imposing such a rule. Once the restrictions were off, inevitably screen time went up a lot. Do I worry about its implications in his life? Yes, I do. Do I get concerned that with the combined ranks of those who wish to convince young people that life lived online is better than the real world his self-control, responsibility and commitments to make the best of his own life won’t be strong enough?

In Western countries when TV got bigger, regulations were there to control what could be seen when and what methods could be used to exploit or ‘suck in’ consumers. Likewise, the advertising industry was subjected to specific sets of rules about what it could do, what was acceptable, especially around children. The internet comes with none of these checks and balances.

More needs to be known, and quickly. There also needs to be advance thought given to future implications of newer developments like virtual reality – yet to become mainstream, but with enormous implications. Today, perhaps the hardest aspect to deal with is that as parents or educators we are not well-enough informed to know what is right or wrong, what is or isn’t dangerous. However, our ignorance is certainly not bliss and could be something we rue greatly in the future.

The students of our school have now been on summer vacation for around two and a half weeks. I hope, for their sake, that they’re not all buried deep in a screen right now. I would love nothing more than for them to cut their screen time in favour of some outdoor activity, reading, art or even just time to chat and play with siblings. What’s the saying – moderation in all things!


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