“Put your slide rule away and go out and play!” is something I never heard from my mom when I was a kid. My father never admonished me about spending too much time at the typewriter. There were, however, limits placed on telephone use (a single house phone, party line) and watching TV (VHF, 2 channels).
Today, those precursors of “tech” have evolved and conflated into nearly a single thing, whether delivered by smartphone, personal assistant, tablet, or the latest, coolest device hoping to corner the market. One gizmo can deliver computation, composition, conversation and audio-visual entertainment. Mirabile dictu! (Latin for “ain’t it grand.”)
Current conventional wisdom, bolstered by plenty of scientific and academic firepower, says there can be too much of this seemingly good thing. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers at many colleges and universities, the Sesame Workshop, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation … you can hardly count them all … seem to agree on this: For children of all ages, less screen time equals better mind and body.
The reasons are appealingly intuitive, so much so that they practically dare you to disagree. Kids need sleep. Kids need time to play and socialize with other kids — ones who are physically present. Families need more face time. Other reasons abound, buttressed by statistics like:
- Having a tech device (TV, desktop/laptop, tablet, smartphone, …) in the bedroom leads to lower test scores, sleeping problems, and obesity in kids.
- Elementary school children who use a tech device more than two hours per day are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems.
- Kids feel “unimportant” when they see their parents interacting with their tech rather than with them.
- Academic success improves when kids get physical exercise and read physical books.
But before you pull the plug — or rechargeable battery — on your kids’ tech, wait for the swing of the pendulum. A May, 2018 study at the University of Zurich, the results of which were published in The Communication Review, claims that how kids interact with their tech and what they watch and do can outweigh claimed disadvantages. (See it here.)
Another survey, of 1,100 US. college students, found that students from homes without tech restrictions experienced greater success than students whose tech time came with restrictions.
What’s the take-away here? A fairly wishy-washy, “how parents set tech use guidelines and how they talk to their kids about tech use is more important than for how long your child uses screens in any given time.”
More on that next week.