I regulate my children’s media intake. We only got a tablet a year or so ago and it’s one kindle fire for the whole family mostly reserved for long roadtrips or very occasional usage. We limit tv and movies and are thoughtful about what content is consumed in that time. My children also attend a classical school where they encounter very little technology and even then only occasionally. Limiting these things seemed like a pretty logical step for me but it’s also recommended by most in the medical field and research backs it up pretty strongly.
Then I started researching the why. See, I am an educator and educational technology has gone far beyond a buzzword to become an assumed asset to the classroom but that seemed rather illogical.
How could digital media be bad for children in personal use but perfectly fine to expose them to on a daily basis in a captive setting when we were supposed to be engaging their minds? Spoiler alert: it can’t. Digital media is changing the way our children process information. This is not an opinion or theory it is a fact with an expansive, and yet growing, field of research to support it. If you are unsure where to begin sifting through research I will be including a list of resources at the bottom of this blog.
But then I was confronted with another fact. If it is not good for developing brains it’s likely not neutral to adult brains either. Spoiler alert: it’s not. So was I leading by example? It’s easy to say, “I’m an adult, I can control myself.” or “My brain is done developing, I don’t need to worry.” but that’s because it’s very easy to deny facts we do not want to confront.
The reality is I need to unplug just as much and just as often as my children. I am aware of the irony of writing this on a digital media platform using a laptop. I truly am. But as I became convicted I needed to lead by example I decided I needed some concrete boundaries.
See phones and tv have been around a while now and I was having trouble connecting why they would be inherently more addictive than in the 80s or 90s until I listened to a talk on media ecology by Dr. T. David Gordon.
Two factors stood out: First, tvs and phones were stationary. To use them you must be tethered to one place, something most of us tend to avoid. We used them less in most cases because we weren’t willing to miss out on the whole world to wait by them. Now, they are with us always, or least they can be. Another was the nature of the beasts themselves, tv camera angles remained stationary for 30-40 seconds instead of 3-4 and shows were on when they were on. Not many people liked every single show on tv so you were limited to certain viewing hours simply because you wouldn’t like the shows on in many time slots. Now, you can choose your own personal brand of distracting, mind numbing programing any time of day or night and the idea of binging it is completely normal. Phones had one function and could only distract us by interacting in a very personal way with another human. Now, you can do almost anything on your phone, the possibilities are very nearing limitless.
Faced with the reality that the phones and tvs of my childhood were not those of my today I was also faced with the reality that the way I grew up (no limits on technology), not longer applied.
As I write this I am sitting at my new writing desk. I bought it to essentially turn my laptop into a PC when I am home. This is where my laptop lives now and if I want to use it I will have to sit on the backless stool, my body regularly making me aware if I am here to long.
I also deleted facebook & facebook messenger from my phone since I can’t imagine a scenario where someone would need to reach me in an emergency but also would not have my actual cell phone number. I don’t want to find myself distracted from real life by digital life and those little dings. The dings can wait but life can not, in fact it is notoriously impatient, passing us by with or without our permission or acknowledgment. I want to ensure I am leading by example, not telling my children to do as a I day, not as I do.
*This does not mean that I think technology is inherently evil or harmful but our constant consumption of it, and our replacement of worthwhile ventures like education with a watered down digital substitute ARE dangerous. We will continue to use digital media but in more thoughtful ways and amounts than ever before.*
Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids – And How To Break the Trance – Dr. Nicholas Kardaras
The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder – Richard Louv
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You – Tony Reinke
Alone Together: Why We expect More from Technology & Less From Each Other- Turkle
The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans & Jeopardizes Our Future – Bauerlein
Articles & Sites