The screen time debate is pitting parents against each other

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Before the reaction of the smartphone, before the applications resembled cigarettes for children or Facebook co-founder, Sean Parker, he reflected: "God knows what he is doing to our children's brains" or Tim Cook revealed that Allow your nephew to touch social networks. Due to the demands of studies and regulations and the closing of applications, Riddhi Shah was heading for a weekend trip to disconnect from the technology of San Francisco.
It was the end of 2015, and while traveling in the car with her husband and another couple, Riddhi, a friend of mine, was several months pregnant and tormented with questions about how she could inhabit her new role as a mother. That makes her equal to all first-time parents in the history of the world. However, the terms of parenthood changed abruptly in 2007 when Steve Jobs presented the bright object that many humans would spend in the next decade watching or consciously telling themselves not to focus. Now, the upbringing of the children has gone, as a pediatrician told me, to "a difficulty 3.7 of Olympic difficulty – from 2.8" a decade ago.
Parenting now means having the "smart phone debate" – not just with your children, constantly – but with other parents. And as Riddhi was about to discover it, hell are the screen time policies of other people.
Hell is the screen time policies of other people
Riddhi, an artist friend of Riddhi, who trusted her upbringing and not words, said that she and her husband did not allow their son to see a screen in his first two years. Riddhi pointed out that it would be impossible: Riddhi was a content strategist at a technology company that had to deal with Slack and emails after hours. Her husband (who was by his side, silently) was an avid CNN watcher and an online news search engine. Riddhi explained that his work made it impossible to leave the screens when a baby arrived.
Her friend rushed. "That's bullshit, it's just a matter of prioritizing."
Debates like this, about smartphones and their effect on the brain and mental health of people, are everywhere now, and as Riddhi experienced, they are particularly intense when it comes to children. Technological industry experts and children's media monitors launched a "Truth about technology" campaign, pushing to create ethical standards for technology companies, lobbying for government regulation and government-funded research on the effects of all these screens and advocating for the digital literacy curriculum in schools. . Groups like Campaign for a Free Childhood and dozens of allies are demanding that Facebook close their recently launched Messenger chat for children. The shareholders are demanding that Apple study the effects of their phones on children and offer better parental controls. Many of these voices are not your typical professional concerns, but former Silicon Valley executives and apostates.
Parents are still the only regulators
But until some massive industry or regulatory reconsideration takes effect, and perhaps never, given the commercial interests at stake, parents are still the only regulators trying to establish rules for their children and put best practices with other parents into practice.
Riddhi was hurt by her friend's response. She had been classified in the looser parent category while her baby was still in the womb. Two years later, his pain has turned into an envious resentment. She calls the anti-smartphone crowd the "vegans of the world of nurturing." "Women who are so" anti "seem to have all the answers, like they do not need the technological distraction that mere mortal parents do," he said. . "There is simply morality around this technological problem: the equivalent of religiosity, it feels as if it has the same fervor, in a way that not many other things do [about] to educate a child in San Francisco."

I wanted to hear from the tightest side of the parents' trenches, so I called a friend we will refer to as Julie. (Maybe it says something about the tenor of the smartphone debate in 2018 that you ask for a pseudonym for fear of bothering friends and customers.) Julie epitomizes that organized hippy species from Northern California: it's a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – designer of certified interiors with a musician husband. His son's screen time of almost three years is limited to seeing family photos, FaceTiming to his grandparents and, only when he is waiting for his mother's dance class or together with the family, watching E.T.
In a world flooded with screens, Julie's rigid posture can cause a good deal of tension. She came home from work recently to find her nanny looking at a smartphone with her son, disobeying Julie's ban. Julie did not want drama with a woman whom she considers "as if she belonged to the family", so she remained silent. Similarly, she is increasingly annoyed with friends who, when they visit their child to play, light what they call their "television sitter" so they can chat without having to look at the children. They are ahead of their judgment when they say: "I know we are bad parents".
"I'm not going to tell you that you can not turn on your own television," says Julie, in a tone that says she also wants her to be able to. (The result of this scenario was chaos, which widened his conviction against the screen: "He did not like that his friend was completely attached to the TV." He wanted his attention, and before we knew it, he was pulling his hair and She pulled him "In a group of Facebook parents, Julie sees other parents posting things like:" I'm not one of those crazy people who do not let their kids have screen time. "His response:" I judge in secret " , she says. "I think they're trying to feel better … I'm just like anything, they're not informed."
"I think they try to feel better."
Arguments against screens generally focus on how they affect brain development and the ability to focus. Julie's information about the phones comes mainly from her husband, who read Alone Together by Sherry Turkle: why we expect more of the technology and less of each other before his son was born, which deals with the decline of relationships in the digital age. It also tries to keep up with the articles that come out on the subject; was especially moved by the writings of Jean M. Twenge on the disappearance of the first generation raised in smartphones, and the piece by Andrew Sullivan in the magazine New York about how he cured his addiction to the Internet with a camp without smartphones.
But many of the most alarming pieces about phones are based on anecdotes or surveys with unclear causes, as depressed children use social networks or social networks make children get depressed. Solid studies on smartphones are hard to find or give contradictory results. Smartphones are pushing us to "on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades," writes Twenge, a psychologist. Other experts say that, in moderation, social networks can help children develop their social skills and resilience. NPR published the headline "How Smartphones Are Making Children Unhappy". The posture of the Huffington Post: "How technology has made our children smarter than ever".
Solid studies on smartphones are hard to find
Anya Kamenetz, NPR journalist and author of the new book The Art of Screen Time: how her family can balance digital media and real life, was immersed in science, and her conclusion is that the studies available are too limited to give answers definitive. As she points out, the last major federally funded research on children and the media came out in 1982. Since then, Kamenetz writes: "[R] researchers have struggled to keep up with the avalanche of new devices and technologies. The American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 cites only a handful of small experiments involving touch screens and young children, for example, no large-scale studies, meta-analyzes or longitudinal studies, and researchers also do not have access to industry inside information on how Game makers produce the most effective content. "
"I would love it [screen time] to be a science," Kamenetz added in a recent appearance on the radio. "But the fact is that scientists tell us there's a lot they do not know."
"We", as in the parents, "we are a little alone".
"We are a little alone."
It is not surprising that, with such uncertainty, parents self-select smart phone policy tribes with their own rules.
"I think people get irritated when they're told how to be parents, so it's a sensitive area," says Sierra Filucci, who oversees the advice of the parents of Common Sense Media, a watchdog of the media based in San Francisco. (His personal biography counts among his interests, "directing people around.") "On the one hand, they want really clear rules, but they want to know that it comes from a trusted authority."
More specifically: "They do not want it from the other mother in the classroom."

At age 11, smartphones only entered preadolescents, so research on them is also short-term and prepubescent. With that shortage, experts often look for peer-reviewed studies of those screens with a much longer history – TV – that discerns the effects of seeing it in excess: obesity, worse school performance, social and language delays, problems for sleep, worse family dynamics. . The multitude of negative reactions from smartphones expresses logical reasons why smartphones could be like television, but what is worse: they are with children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and are open to all the content and the Internet; some applications are even programmed to be addictive to our reptilian minds.
The conventions about television that see children took years to evolve, and they continue to do so. Going back to the most innocent age of 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a policy that recommended not using television for children under two years of age. "The original recommendation of & # 39; no screens before two & # 39; was so clear, so definite, that it felt really good," says Filucci of Common Sense Media. "The parents said:" I know what the rule is and what I have to do to be a good father. "They felt guilty if they did not follow him."
Then, after many subsequent studies that showed that the right kind of media could actually help learning, and after critics asked for an almost disproportionate ban on modern parenting, the AAP revised its policy in 2016. "They were accusing us of being" net babysitters, "says Victor Strasburger, a pediatrician who was a consultant to the 1999 recommendations." The academy was, I think, worried that the parents were not accepting the original recommendation. "In other words: the experts needed to be more realistic.
"The original recommendation of & # 39; no screens before two & # 39; was so clear, so definite, that it felt really good."
The revised maximum was not very different in terms of age recommendations (screens were not used before 18 months instead of two years), but it became more nuanced and the general diet of the children was emphasized. The AAP said video chat should not count against screen time and could be used even with babies, since studies show that it allows children to maintain ties with remote family members. Also, limit the media to one hour per day for children two to five years old, but with warnings: make it educational programming (PBS is a good option), without violent or fast-paced content, without applications with too many distractions, without screens in meals or for an hour before bedtime, and parents should share the media with their children and re-teach the lessons. They still warn against the use of technology as a relaxing strategy in everything except pinches, such as long flights. For children over the age of five, the policy did not set a time limit for the media, but suggested a family media plan.
Suddenly, what had been a dry age restriction became a series of parental judgment calls. (Even the length of the children's policy went from two pages to four.) "Sometimes parents want very specific rules," says Filucci. "That [rule] changed, and then it was complicated."
Strasburger says that of course more research is needed, however, he defends the studies available as sufficient to justify the control of the use of the children's screen. "We have data on the effect of television, movies and music videos on children, and these devices are simply being used to access these types of media to a large extent," he says. "We still do not have good information about social networks, but research is evolving and is about to come in. We have good research on cyberbullying and sexting, which are the two areas that are the biggest potential problems."
"Filters are parents".
In short: "So we know a lot, and these new devices put the media in the hands of children at too young an age and are not filtered, and it is necessary to filter them." Filters are parents. "
Many in the field of control and filter take great trouble to say that they are not anti-technology in general. Kamenetz, the author, suggests this general rule: "Enjoy the screens, not too much, most of them together" (a nod to Michael Pollan's guidelines for healthy eating: "Eat food, not too much, especially plants"). Common Sense Media, the non-profit organization that advises parents on children's media, led the "Truth About Tech" campaign with technology leaders presented last month. However, they are the embodiment of the nuanced approach: "We believe that technology can be genuinely beneficial for children if you find good quality content (that's why we rate and review all types of media), and if they use it in balance with others. parts of their lives, "spokeswoman Karen Zuercher said by email.
Still, parents are realizing that they can not filter screens on their own; They need to recruit other parents and schools of the same opinion. DeeDee Schroeder, a Bechtel lawyer who lives in San Francisco, gave her two older daughters phones when they were in seventh grade, before knowing the consequences. Now they will "disappear into their rooms with laptops and watch Netflix, I feel it's too late to contact them." Not only does she think that they no longer hear her, but she has seen a daughter "disappear on her phone" and worries that she will be diverted along a path of anxiety and body image problems, echoing some of the most terrifying early research about The effects of smartphones on the mental health of adolescents.
So Schroeder turned his attention to his two youngest children, who are instead entering their early years when the reaction of smartphones is gaining strength: "I'm going to do everything in my power so this does not hurt me. come back. "
"This is iPhone celibacy!"
Schroeder discovered the promise of Wait Until 8th, initiated last year by a mother in Texas, who asks parents to enroll 10 families in their child's grade level, who will postpone giving them a smartphone up to the eighth grade. Schroeder and another mom convinced 15 families to sign the promise. "I'm like, there's nobody doing anything about it, the government is not doing anything, the schools are not doing it, we need an effort from the community." When Schroeder spoke about the commitment in a school meeting about the use of technology, most of the parents, many of them working in technology companies, were interested and excited. Fifteen families signed the promise; not all. A father, who is the CEO of a technology company, says Schroeder, snorted: "This is the celibacy of the iPhone!"
Schroeder acknowledges that "Wait Until 8th has the sound of a sexual prohibition." However, he insists that he is not abolitionist: "We are so frustrated with that response." Since your private school already uses an iPad curriculum, part of the promise is to educate them about the technology, give them route rules before handing over the keys. "We want our children to be more knowledgeable about technology than the average child."

Two years after the car trip, Riddhi has not really changed her mind about the impossibility of her and her husband delivering their screens. Even so, they have improvised a viable policy: she postpones sending emails while her daughter is awake, and limits her CNN sessions to about 20 minutes, whereas before "it was the soundtrack of our lives". The other night, he had to take a work call during the night to try to convince a candidate to join his company, while his daughter continued to cry on the phone, singing "¡imagen, babe!" (He wanted Riddhi to take a picture that he could see immediately, enraptured). )
"Half of my brain felt guilty for setting a bad example, so sometimes it feels like a battle between a race and being a 'good mother'."

Because her daughter seemed obsessed with watching videos of herself, Riddhi stopped letting her see them, reducing her screen view to only half an hour of Elmo on weekends. She hopes that is the right thing to do. "I would say that the potential harm to children is probably less acute than the damage to the psyche of the parents."
That, she admits, is based on zero evidence, but the fact that it feels true touches the heart of the parental debate: it is far from being only about children; He says as much, if not more, about the parents and their anxieties.
In fact, the AAP policy also includes guidelines for parental screen time, citing studies that indicate that parents on their phones interact less with their children, may have more conflicts with them and their own use is a possible predictor of the habits of their children. There is nothing like trying to regulate your own use of the phone to take home the compulsive thing that has become our relationship with our device.
Where are our parents to establish the limits?
Parents do not need scientific research to tell them that phones can be dangerous; They can deduce the evils from their own excessive use. Julie, the proudly anti-adolescent mother, knows that social networks can depress a child because she herself feels anxious when she travels through "all these amazing lives" on Facebook, and she has to remind herself every moment she watches other people Online is a time when you are not working on your own goals. She had to train, as a mother, to leave the phone as well.
In the same way, Riddhi understands that her little brain can not handle a lot of applications for grandiloquent children, especially because she is an adult woman who feels her attention is fraying with constant notifications. Setting rules for your children is easier than attacking your own behavior. Where are our controls and balances? Where are our parents to establish the limits? Sometimes it would be a great relief for mom and dad or another qualified authority to snatch the phone from our hands and set some house rules.


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