Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Touch-Screen Generation

photo credit: demandaj (Creative Commons)
Check out this article at The Atlantic about the development of apps and games for toddlers, and how the very developers--who are also parents--responded to the idea of allowing their own children to use their iPads and smart phones:
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its policy on very young children and media. In 1999, the group had discouraged television viewing for children younger than 2, citing research on brain development that showed this age group’s critical need for “direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers.” The updated report began by acknowledging that things had changed significantly since then. In 2006, 90 percent of parents said that their children younger than 2 consumed some form of electronic media. Nonetheless, the group took largely the same approach it did in 1999, uniformly discouraging passive media use, on any type of screen, for these kids. (For older children, the academy noted, “high-quality programs” could have “educational benefits.”) The 2011 report mentioned “smart cell phone” and “new screen” technologies, but did not address interactive apps. Nor did it broach the possibility that has likely occurred to those 90 percent of American parents, queasy though they might be: that some good might come from those little swiping fingers. 
I had come to the developers’ conference partly because I hoped that this particular set of parents, enthusiastic as they were about interactive media, might help me out of this conundrum, that they might offer some guiding principle for American parents who are clearly never going to meet the academy’s ideals, and at some level do not want to. Perhaps this group would be able to articulate some benefits of the new technology that the more cautious pediatricians weren’t ready to address.
She was a former Montessori teacher and a mother of four. I myself have three children who are all fans of the touch screen. What games did her kids like to play?, I asked, hoping for suggestions I could take home. 
“They don’t play all that much.” 
Really? Why not? 
“Because I don’t allow it. We have a rule of no screen time during the week,” unless it’s clearly educational. 
No screen time? None at all? That seems at the outer edge of restrictive, even by the standards of my overcontrolling parenting set. 
“On the weekends, they can play. I give them a limit of half an hour and then stop. Enough. It can be too addictive, too stimulating for the brain.
During the James Bay missions trip two weeks ago, I asked our high school students to not bring their cell phones or iPods. This was initially met with outrage and frustration, a how DARE you?! paradigm when it came to the restriction of their technology use. Of course, they not only survived for five days without Facebook or Instragram--they thrived without it. 

They noticed one another. They prayed for each other. They laughed and cried and hugged and rejoiced. They used ordinary pieces of paper to write sacred words of encouragement and grace to fellow team members. 

Yet they are also going to be the generation that likely loses the art of writing with a pen or picking up a hardcover book, trading those in for a touch screen that fits in the palm of their hand.

The touch-screen generation is here. Instead of becoming luddites, are we teaching young people how to think about the way they use and engage with technology?

The article goes on to point out that avoiding or ignoring technology and touch-screens isn't very beneficial for our children. Instead, parents need to learn how to model and foster healthy habits with technology use:
Do you think the content is appropriate? Is screen time a “relatively small part of your child’s interaction with you and the real world?”—and suggests tailoring your rules to the answers, child by child. One of the most interesting points Guernsey makes is about the importance of parents’ attitudes toward media. If they treat screen time like junk food, or “like a magazine at the hair salon”—good for passing the time in a frivolous way but nothing more—then the child will fully absorb that attitude, and the neurosis will be passed to the next generation.
“We live in a screen age, and to say to a kid, ‘I’d love for you to look at a book but I hate it when you look at the screen’ is just bizarre. It reflects our own prejudices and comfort zone. It’s nothing but fear of change, of being left out.” 
Prensky’s worldview really stuck with me. Are books always, in every situation, inherently better than screens? My daughter, after all, often uses books as a way to avoid social interaction, while my son uses the Wii to bond with friends.
To hold a view that "books = good, screen = bad" is both limiting and unrealistic. Engaging with technology is a spiritual and theological exercise; how we view the gifts of screens and WiFi and Instagram and Facebook and XBox reflect our values and critical thinking skills. Let's help young people learn how to think about touch-screens, lest they mindlessly soak up everything they encounter like a sponge.

Parents: my friends, Adam and Marko, wrote an excellent little book on teens and social media, A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media.

How do we equip and train our children how to think about and engage with technology in healthy ways? Share your own wisdom or ideas in the comments!

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