A teenager told me last week that everyone she knew cheated on book reports by lifting stuff off the Net instead reading the books. She claimed that it “takes too long to read a book.” She described how her generation hated wasting time on slow communication. She added, “It’s like why I don’t read emails from my relatives. I pretty much connect by texting—it’s fast and easy. I don’t even listen to voicemails. It takes too long.”
She’s even bored with TV these days. Instead, she simultaneously watches videos, texts, Facebooks and plays her favorite online game, FarmVille. She sheepishly admitted, “It’s addictive and expensive, but it gives me such a thrill when I go online to see how much the seeds I purchased have grown!” The seeds might be fake—or virtual as we say—but hey, it doesn’t stop the thrill of the blossom.
Quick. Easy. Connect. Thrill. Addictive. Expensive. These words sum up a lot of the downside of technology invading children’s lives and hijacking the time that used to be spent outside, reading, creating, reflecting or socializing with direct face to face interaction.
Little releases of dopamine, the neuro-chemical associated with pleasure in the brain, keep us pecking away at our machines for those jolts of good feeling. Unfortunately, these highly rewarding encounters with machines can often occur more reliably and effectively than with a conversation with a loved one. Herein lies (one aspect of) the problem.
The Kaiser foundation found that the average American kid spends 7 and a half hours a day engaged with TV, video games and the Net. Add cell phones and multi-screening. and the number goes up to 11 hours a day. And the heaviest media users were more likely to be obese, sad, and doing poorly at school. No wonder this phenomenon has been called an assault on “family life as we’ve known it” for thousands of years.
On the other hand, young people in rural communities or developing countries can access information, education and employment over the Net. Children with disabilities and problems can feel less isolated when they join interest groups. Marginalized youth find resources that can make the difference between alienation and knowing that a wider world view suggests that life “gets better”.
New technology has always been associated with both fear and excitement. The telegraph, telephone and television had their detractors. People end up saying, “It’s here to stay, so you might as well learn to deal with it.” What does that mean for parenting and preventing screens from taking over your child’s social and mental lives in the 21st century?
I can sum up my advice in 4 steps for dealing with the new technology and media in your child’s life and your own: T.E.C.H.
Take time to learn it
Exercise control over it—make and follow rules
Consider tracking and filtering it
Harness the best, and zap the rest! Continue reading