For those of you who own an iPhone, did you activate the latest iOS update? The one that has ‘Screen Time’ optics? It reports on how much social networking, productivity and ‘other’ time you spent on your phone. Well, annoyingly, mine shows an inordinate amount of time for social networking, which my husband gleefully pointed out to me one morning. “I actually work on WeChat too, okay!” I said to him. Plus, I research, pay for groceries and undertake other day-to-day life-managing activities – how else do you survive in China?
But, if I am honest, it was a huge reality check for me (or a virtual one), because one day last week, I ‘apparently’ picked up my phone 65 times! 65. I’m surprised I’m not cross-eyed or walking around with a permanently-glazed look because this is what I think will happen to my kids if I let them have too much screen time. Yet, what am I doing myself? *Tsk* bad role-model. Also, I might have to take back not being glazed because one day while overtired, I tried to swipe my computer screen. Truth. Reality check #2.
Hence, I decided to research the topic of screen time (er, on my phone) and came across an article in the New York Times by Nellie Bowles titled, A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley. The ominous title got my attention, and the article said, “Technologists know how phones work, and many have decided they don’t want their children anywhere near them.” I took a while to believe this until ‘real’ people were quoted, such as the mother of a 5-year-old and 3-year-old, Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. She said “Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” she said. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.” Her daughters can only use a screen during a long car ride or plane trip. Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now CEO of a robotics and drone company were quoted saying about screens, “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine; it’s closer to crack cocaine….going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain.” As if this didn’t make you feel bad enough, the article revealed that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, would not let his nephew join social networks. Bill Gates banned cell phones until his children were teenagers, and Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads.
Image via Pexels
So if these tech-Gods won’t let their kids near a screen, what should mere mortals like ourselves do? Slightly freaked out? I sent the article to my own ‘tech whizz’ friend who works for Google and is also a parent, asking for his opinion. He pointed me to other perspectives including Alexandra Samuel, a tech writer, researcher, and speaker who spent two years studying digital parenting. According to her, there are three types of digital parents:
1. Enablers allow their children to use devices freely. Everyone has their own screen and kids are tech-savvy and responsible for setting their own rules around screen time. Enablers believe that time spent online is beneficial to growth and learning experiences, whether that’s playing Minecraft, learning to code or simply playing around with apps and on the Internet. Limiting screen time will only cause drama and limit the child or teen’s learning experiences.
2. Limiters focus on limiting device and technology interactions as much as possible. Parents in this group are very fearful of the negative side-effects of device use, worrying that screens will shorten their children’s attention spans, stunt social development and cause physical, mental and psychological issues. Limiters are most likely to be parents of children around the preschool age; and
3. Mentors understand that children’s technology habits need to be balanced and guided. Mentors know that devices are here to stay, and shunning their use will do no good. Most parents of elementary school-aged children adopt a mentor approach and are keen on being involved in their child’s device use habits. They most likely have screen time rules in place, especially at bedtime and during family meals, and conversations about online safety happen on a regular basis. They try to connect with their child through technology, whether that’s playing games together or using text or messaging apps to chat and connect.
Image via Pexels
Image via Pexels
Now that we know which general approach is best, what about how much time? Most people follow the ‘2x2’ rule, meaning zero screen time under the age of 2, and then 2 hours a day after that is ok. Heck, I do that for my 9-year-old and 3-year-old (though weather and pollution permitting, I’d still rather boot them outside for a good old-fashioned play). For teens, a University of Oxford study revealed the ‘Goldilocks effect,’ meaning that the sweet spot is 257 minutes a day when their sense of wellbeing is boosted. The researchers suggested this may be because digital connectivity can enhance creativity, communication skills and development. Beyond that, adverse effects kick in.
The thing is, the more I read, the more I became confused. Researchers, policy makers, academics and tech whizzes didn’t seem to agree, which was disheartening. Then, one of the resources my tech whizz friend referred me to on my alma mater website made me feel less like I was floundering in cyberspace. Academics Sonia Livingstone and Alicia Blum-Ross from the London School of Economics and Political Science write regularly on digital parenting and in one article titled, The Trouble with Screen Times Rules, they said instead of watching the clock for a strict number of hours, ask yourselves are your kids:
- Eating and sleeping enough?
- Physically healthy?
- Connecting socially with friends and family – through technology or otherwise?
- Engaged in school?
- Enjoying and pursuing hobbies and interests – through technology or beyond?
If the answer to these questions is more or less “yes,” then the problem of screen time was less dramatic. The notion of ‘addiction’ to screens is not a simple measure of time they say. This approach is a ‘high level’ way to examine if your child has a problem with screens, but as to how much exactly is right, there is, unfortunately, no consensus (yet).
I don’t know if the above has been helpful or not to you, but it gave me some grounding to think about how I want to digitally parent for the future. It is clear that I not only have to mentor my children but also myself, as I continue to research this topic (on my phone).
[Title image via Pexels]
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