Parents, as usual are caught in the middle. A recent article by Hannah Rosin–a Mom herself–looks into the dilemma facing parents. Called “The Touch-Screen Generation,” Rosin explores the choices that largely educated, middle and upper-middle class parents face when it comes to deciding whether their infants and toddlers should have the devices and, if so, for how long should they be swiping screens each day. (See four minute video in Rosin article).
On the dilemma facing parents and how much time children should be using devices for games, talking, and facing a screen, Rosin opts for parental judgment on a child-by-child basis. She does not see high-tech devices for toddlers and young children as an enemy to be fought and conquered. She does not, however, speak to the plasticity of the brain and the capacities of new electronic devices altering how children learn, what content and skills they retain, and the habits that children accrue.
With the rush to buy iPads for toddlers and kindergartners and the spread of tablets and smart phones among children and youth, can (or should) parents and schools do anything about use at home and school of the increasingly pervasive technologies?
Keep in mind that there are social class differences in how parents and significant adults allow their children use of screen devices. A number of studies have found, for example, that:
*African-American and Latino children ages 0 to 8 spend more time with screen media, including television, video games, and computers than their white peers.
*Rates of bedroom television are more than twice as high among African-American (69%) and Hispanic (66%) children than for white children in the same age group (28%).
*Children from low-income families (less than $30,000 annually) spend more time with television and videos and have bedroom television rates more than three times higher than children from middle- and upper-income families.
Parents have three choices in managing the dilemma of how much screen time and high-tech devices should their children use at home. Doing nothing and going with the flow–acceding to their son’s or daughter’s request for the newest device is what many parents do. A second option is to make deliberate choices based on parents’ values–rules for television watching, ditto for cell phones and tablets. A third choice is to decide on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, combinations of these choices get made as children get older and parents experience untoward events such as unemployment, divorce, illness, death.
And what about school? Consider what Westside Neighborhood School, a private school in Los Angeles, is doing. An NPR reporter described the school and its use of technology recently:
With kids from pre-K through 8th grade, WNS sits tucked into the shadow of a Home Depot in L.A.’s booming Playa Vista neighborhood. It’s close enough to the ocean that the air is more salt than smog.
When talking about screen time and kids’ access to handheld devices, Brad Zacuto, who heads the school, likes to use an old-fashioned analogy: “It’s like putting a child behind a wheel of a car. There’s a lot of power there.”
Think about how dangerous it was back when cars first hit the road, Zacuto says. No traffic lights or street signs. That’s where we are now, he warns, with kids and all this technology at their fingertips. “It’s here to stay. But at some point you have to teach kids how to drive a car responsibly.”
Zacuto’s tech policy begins with a few basics: First, no smartphones till sixth grade. Even then, kids can bring them, but they have to check them at the front desk.
Second, engaging and educating parents: WNS makes them sign a commitment to limit screen time at home and to keep kids off of social media — again, until sixth grade.
Also, at school, no technology until second grade. “We choose to have our youngest children engaged in digging in dirt,” Zacuto says, “and building things and using their hands….”
In second grade, Zacuto says, kids start using classroom laptops. They get some basic lessons in typing and word processing and their first taste of Internet research….
By sixth grade, WNS students may have to check their smartphones at the door, but they get their own school-issued tablets with textbooks on them. Still, Zacuto insists, little valuable class time is spent simply looking down.
When sixth-grade social studies teacher Caitlin Barry gives her students time to read from the textbooks on their iPads, they often do it in pairs, encouraging each other to explore confusing terms or ideas. Some teachers even put short lectures online, for students to watch at home….
“It sort of flips the content,” Zacuto says. “I’d rather be spending my time in school with the teacher, with the kids — doing interactive, collaborative [things], using what we’ve learned.”
The reporter ended her story on WSN by saying: In other words: “using screens at home to increase the time students spend working face to face in the classroom. It’s a delicate dance, preparing kids for both the Digital Age and the social world.”
The dilemmas facing parents, principals, and teachers about children and youth use of technologies won’t go away. They can, however, be smartly managed.