— -- (Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Babble.com. It has been reprinted here with permission. Disney is the parent company of both Babble and ABC News.)
Recently actress Jennifer Garner shared her thoughts about technology and her kids: “I think we’re all as a society figuring out what’s appropriate. I mean, we can’t keep in front of what our kids are learning or seeing or using, technology-wise … Thank goodness my kids are little enough that they’re far from having phones or iPads or anything.”
With kids aged 8, 5, and 2, I am surprised Garner is struggling with the appropriateness of technology. One of the weirdest parts of parenting in the age of non-stop data and information is how conflicting screen time reports can be. One minute we are chastised for allowing our children to use a smartphone and mobile apps, and the next we are being urged to get our kids interested in coding and STEM games. Give the kids access! Take away the access! When it comes to our kids and technology, are we really the generation who knows best?
When I was in fifth grade, my elementary school was gifted a computer lab by Apple. We were kids who had stained purple fingers from taking pop quizzes fresh off the mimeograph and having a computer lab was mind-blowing. There were only two teachers who were comfortable in the lab. These were teachers who sometimes needed to answer our questions with an “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out.”
Our generation grew up alongside computers and smart technology. Many of us got our first email address in high school or college and still remember the sound of a modem dial-up. This kind of technology didn’t exist, and then it did. We can get oddly nostalgic for things like beepers and pay phones or continuous printer paper.
Technology did not slow down for us while we were getting jobs, starting families, building careers, and becoming grownups. If anything technology picked up speed and warped into hyper-drive. We will never catch up; there will always be something new. Always.
Before my son was born, he was connected to smart technology. I had been monitoring my pregnancy symptoms online and logging my diet in a journal on my phone. After he was born, I used an app to help me keep track of how often he was nursing and to record his measurements.
Everything about our children’s lives have been connected to technology — from the beginning. And yet our generation seems hell-bent on declaring “screen time” as a bad thing. The most recent recommendations from The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children over the age of two should be limited to no more than one or two hours a day.
“Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.”
One of the problems here seems to be how “screen time” continues to be defined within these studies. On the surface a screen is a screen, but I don’t believe there is equality between television, smart phones, and computers. Not to make any form of media the bad guy, but I don’t believe watching television is on the same par as playing an app or computer game.
Put TV aside while we talk about this; it’s programmed and our best reaction to it is On/ Off. But the others — why should parents be pressured into considering smart phones and computers as screens of doom? I can’t get my head around this. My son learned his letters and numbers thanks to a super creative app. He worked on problem-solving skills as a toddler and learned about different cultures. Video games have long been viewed as something that brings little value to our children, but a recent study from the American Psychological Association has revealed some exciting news. “The more adolescents reported playing strategic video games, such as role-playing games, the more they improved in problem solving and school grades the following year.” Creativity was also improved by playing video games.
The idea of telling my kid he can only have one to two hours of computer time a day makes me laugh. Seriously? What year is this? Have you had a look at job boards recently? Technological jobs are not just the future, they are the now. Movements like The Year of Code are working to fix what they see as a derailment in computer education in the 1990s. The campaign is aimed to “encourage people across the country to get coding for the first time in 2014.” Dan Crow, an adviser for The Year of Code, believes, “The education system largely ignored the explosive growth of computing and the Internet, instead focusing on teaching students how to write Word documents.”
Another organization working to make learning code more accessible for children is Code.org. Code.org believes every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science. Last year, they launched their “Hour of Code” program and over 41,425,000 students from around the world have now written code thanks to them.
Many schools are slowly folding in computer science requirements and after-school computer camps are popping up all over the nation. This is screen time. This is good stuff.
When we were given access to dial-up Internet and home computing, the generation above us didn’t really impose rules or strict guidelines. We were able to figure out new technology on our own. We discovered the World Wide Web and chat rooms. It is so presumptuous to think we should police our kid’s access to technology now.
Being squeamish about technology isn’t doing our children any favors. It might even be holding them back. Do we really need a study to make the rules for our kids when it comes down to basic common sense? As parents, we are here to guide and teach our children and there is nothing, no device or book, that could ever be a substitute for quality time spent with us. Leaving our kids alone with technology is not ideal or smart. Jump into technology with them. Play games next to them, have them teach you the game they are playing, or have them walk you through a problem online. When it comes to screens, time isn’t what needs to be monitored. What needs monitoring is content and how involved we are.
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