I wrote about Catherine Steiner-Adair’s The Big Disconnect for PBS MediaShift this week, a book that has made me more mindful of how much exposure my kids are getting to tech. Here’s how my article begins:
Did you hear the one about the 7-year-old boy who opened a Wii on Christmas morning and when his parents finally checked on him, he’d played for 18 hours? Or the one about the 13-year-old girl who accidentally “butt-dialed” an old acquaintance whose number now belonged to a transsexual prostitute, who then launched a vendetta against the girl? Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist whom parents seem to call whenever there’s a digital/psychological crisis at home, has heard all these stories and more, and shares them in “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”
Steiner-Adair believes the tech-enhanced present has ushered in profound change in the way children develop and the way parents relate to them. “Our screens are sucking us in,” she writes, “in ways that shows like “The Brady Bunch” never did.”
As a parent of two kids, age 4 and 7, I read this book with my family in mind, because it feels like parents today are navigating terrain there’s no real precedent for. I grew up with no cable TV, no cell phones, no video games except for those I played at friends’ houses, and no computer outside of school until middle school, and even then the dial-up Internet connection was so slow there was no temptation to overindulge in it. I often have to explain artifacts of the past to my children, who’ve asked what a phone book is and found the concept of a paper-based card catalog at the library fascinating and kooky. My son dug up some cassette tapes in the basement, and calls them “wheeling music.” It’s clear my kids’ childhoods are going to be different, and more tech-influenced than mine.
A new policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics on October 28 recommends parents control the quantity and content of the media their children consume, keep tech gadgets out of kids’ bedrooms, and model good behavior for kids by limiting their own tech use. Steiner-Adair advises the same limits, and backs these up with examples from the children and families she works with as a counselor. Here are the key lessons “The Big Disconnect” taught me, and the grades I’d give myself for how well I’m handling tech at each age.
NO SCREENS FOR BABIES – MY GRADE: A
Steiner-Adair’s advice for the parents of very young children is straightforward — no screens for children under 2, not ever, and put away the smartphone and the laptop when you’re with your baby. This is in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations. She writes, “Babies are often distressed when they look to their parent for a reassuring connection and discover the parent is distracted or uninterested. Studies show that they are especially distressed by a mother’s ‘flat’ or emotionless expression, something we might once have associated with a depressive caregiver but which now is eerily similar to the expressionless face we adopt when we stare down to text.”
I never let the kids watch TV or look at a computer or smartphone when they were babies, though the second kid was sometimes in the vicinity of a screen that his older sister was watching, and Steiner-Adair writes that it’s difficult to guard a younger child’s tech experience as carefully as the first. “It is an endless challenge,” she writes, “this role of IT parent in the digital age.” No wonder studies of first children show them to usually be higher achievers than subsequent kids.
PRESCHOOLERS – MY GRADE: B
For preschoolers, age 3 to 5, Steiner-Adair recommends strict limits on screen time, and an emphasis on old-fashioned play — dress up with actual play clothes rather than fashion show play on the iPad. I’ve been pretty careful with my kids during this age range too, though when they’re not busy with school I do let them have up to two hours of screen time a day, which sometimes means TV, and other times means computer or iPad games. According to the new American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations published late last month, I should probably bring that down closer to one hour a day. I only let the kids watch PBS or a DVD I approve of.
Steiner-Adair describes a preschool she visited where the children have trouble coming up with their own imaginative games — they can only import scenarios they’ve seen in video games or TV shows, and lack the ability to play with toys that require a “stick-to-it kind of attention.”
The main area for me to try to improve on, as a mom who works on a laptop from home, is to pay attention to “the moments when [kids] initiate connection and they need us to respond attentively.”
Please click through to read the rest: