Another dot in the blogosphere?

Don’t spare this ROD (Part 2)

Posted on: December 21, 2016

This is a continuation of my rant against uncritical articles about limiting screen time. In the previous part, I suggested that adults not spare the ROD — reading, observing, demonstrating — or they will spoil the child.

Screen time is not singular phenomenon. Concerns about the possible effects of screens started in the television (TV) era and only recently included desktop computers, laptop computers, and mobile computing devices like slates, phones, and other handhelds. There has been decades of TV viewing to generate at least two generations of research. However, research on the smaller, mobile screen is more recent and not as comprehensive.

Most media and screen time reports refer to research and recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This year (2016) might have been the first time the AAP took back its limits on screen time. It recognised that its blanket rules did not consider ages, contents, and contexts. For a layperson’s read on the AAP’s recent turnaround, read this Gizmodo article.

The context of use is particularly important. Consider the different possibilities when the user’s screen changes from YouTube to FaceTime to Google Docs to WhatsApp to Pokémon Go. Adults need to take a step back, reserve judgement, and consider the breadth and depth of activity that can happen in different contexts.

I return to the TODAYonline article. There is one sentence that I troubles me the most: “There is so much more for children to see and do in the world than stare at a screen.” If we bother to read and observe, we will learn that kids do more than just “stare at a screen”; they are also watching, learning, laughing, creating, communicating, collaborating, and more.

Media effects are not binary, i.e., the impact of screen is not just bad and no-screen just good. Good or bad behaviours can happen in either context. Whether enabled face-to-face or via a screen proxy, a child can bully (or be bullied), or s/he can build community. Articles that describe the false dichotomy of if-screen-then-bad and if-no-screen-then-good tend to oversimplify and mislead.
 
Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.
 
Articles like No screens, please create unnecessary divides. There is the false division of the effects of screen and no-screen activities. It also adds to the generational divide by fuelling ignorance about screen-based activities.

Adults might try to straddle divides that are complex and possibly wider with technology. While adults have experience, this same experience is double-edged: It can hold back or it can push forward. We should seek first to understand, not judge.

The mobile technology experience of adults might actually be similar to that of their kids. If adults cannot model behaviours and outcomes, I say we learn from our kids how to first adopt a mindset of growth, modify our expectations, and change our actions.

Who else should be teaching our kids? Certainly not some newspaper writers.

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