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The Parent’s Dilemma: Screen Time for Kids?

// Posted by on 04/03/2014 (4:53 PM)

This month’s Wired contained an interesting argument.  It’s article “The Parent’s Dilemma” asks whether “screen time” (like letting your kid use a tablet to watch a show or play games) is a bad way to parent.

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This month’s Wired contained an interesting argument.  It’s article “The Parent’s Dilemma” asks whether “screen time” (like letting your kid use a tablet to watch a show or play games) is a bad way to parent.

“Leapster 1,” cc Belinda Hankins Miller

As a kid who was raised in front of a TV, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little personally invested in this argument.  Three kids and a single mom: you do the math.  The math ends with the TV and computer games.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to the article, advocates for no screen time before the age of two and two hours a day, at most, for older children, regardless of whether the screen time consists of learning games, Angry Birds,Sesame Street, or eBooks.

The question is: are all these screen-based activities equally passive or brain-melting?  The slightly terrifying risk is that, especially with the advent of touchscreens, the impact of these technologies on this generation of children will only be measurable after you take the parenting gamble of letting them or not letting them use the tech.  Mat Honan, the Wired writer behind this piece, seems pretty heavily in the Sherry Turkle camp that these technologies make us “more connected and more isolated at the same time” (68).

Coincidentally, this article comes pretty close to a recent change to the iTunes store to make in-app purchases more difficult, because many parents have had problems with their children making purchases while playing games on their phones or tablets.  Whether these activities are good or bad, they certainly carry a unique set of risks.  (Do you KNOW how quickly buying boosters in Pet Rescue adds up? I don’t. Of course not. Nope.)  Which means more and more parents ARE choosing to let their kids play with touchscreens.

Honan suggests moderation in letting parents decide how much screen time is too much for their kids.  Personally, I think the better question is what kind of activities the kids are doing.

Research has said for years that kids experience real benefits from watching certain kinds of shows or playing certain kinds of games.*  Not all “eyeball hours” are created equal, especially when it comes to stimulating a child’s brain.  We may not know exactly how this particular iteration will perform relative to computer learning games or children’s television shows, but it seems pessimistic to assume this new tech will be more detrimental than its predecessors.

Of course, no screen will ever be a substitute for hugging your kid or reading a bedtime story, but there’s always a difference between supplement and substitution.  And if a little screen time now frees you up for some quality physical time later, I’m not sure I see what all the panic is about.

*http://www.sesameworkshop.org/what-we-do/our-results/literacy-numeracy/, http://www.teachthought.com/video-games-2/6-basic-benefits-of-game-based-learning/


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