But What About The Children?

Forward Child Cry by geralt

We Disconnect: To Reconnect #4

Since the last issue of We Disconnect, We All Need Pellets, I’ve distanced myself further from Facebook which feels like a very good thing. The fact that I’m even talking about distancing myself from a social network indicates something of the emotional pull that once was there.

Of course the pull was not from a social platform but from the connections to people on that platform. However Facebook was simply failing to strengthen those connections. As Marc Weidenbaum put it on Twitter regarding various email notifications from a network in which he briefly participated:

“The app in question (that is, the team making it) doesn’t want me to grow my network; it wants me to grow its network.”

So, as I stated last time, I’m still seeking pellets but in better places.

But What About The Children?

I don’t have kids. Long ago I chose not to have them and except for very brief moments I’ve never regretted or doubted that decision.

I don’t teach kids. I had a few experiences and I think I could have learned to be a good teacher of children but I really hated dealing with some of the adults. In many ways the adults were the real problem for me.

But I care deeply about children especially about poor kids who aren’t getting fed well. And I worry more generally about the weird ways we raise and educate children. No wonder we’re all such screwed up adults!

The introduction of networked communication seems to have radically changed the landscape for kids, parents and teachers. I feel for those having to make decisions about how to handle screentime and various devices when there are so many pressures to give in and let kids spend all the time they want in screenland.

We saw a lot of these issues with television. Screens make cheap babysitters and parents appreciate having something easy with which to occupy children’s time.

With the internet and mobile phones, screens have infiltrated the classroom and teachers have much more pressing concerns than whether or not tv is conflicting with homework.

Both parents and teachers probably feel like they’re making their way in the dark. Scientific research from many different fields is relevant but arrives in bits and pieces, misrepresented by intermediaries and often filtered through social, political and commercial agendas.

Parents want their kids to fit into social settings and that often means keeping up with television shows, musical acts and YouTube stars among many other requirements for fitting in.

Teachers want to do more than simply find a way to fit new tech into the classroom but are challenged by diverse forces and what Jill Smith terms the “tyranny of the urgent everyday.”

I could say more but an old friend, J. Schmidt, wrote me after the last newsletter to share her thoughts on her kids and networked communication. I think I’ll let her words close this opening essay:

“My two sons both have language based learning disabilities and came to/are coming to cell phones/texting/etc. much later than their peers. I have ended up seeing this as some kind of weird benefit because they don’t have the anxiety problems so many of their peers do, aren’t constantly picking up their devices, don’t have a bevy of ‘friends’ they feel beholden to on various platforms, and just in general seem to be well-balanced emotionally.”

“My eighteen-year-old just really started texting when he was 16, can’t be bothered with FB, and is sometimes on/sometimes off Instagram. He seems to use it when he wants to but easily puts it down. His reading and writing speed is still really slow and he has to work super hard to get through his college course load but I think in the end the disability has actually kind of protected him.”

“I’m seeing it now with my 13-year old, too. A bunch of his close friends are getting sucked into all kinds of crazy FB/Instagram/Snapchat drama and he’s just not participating. So maybe he’s not as ‘cool’ but he sure seems happier.”

Note: The quotes and sources below focus primarily on children and parents. A future issue will focus on education.

Featured App:
TeenSafe Control – Parental Control & App Blocker

“With the tap of our new Pause button, you can remotely lock your child’s iPhone – disabling all features except the ability to make and receive phone calls. Perfect for bedtime, studying, dinnertime, or to finally bring an end to texting and driving.”

But All The Other Kids Have Them!
Billionaire tech mogul Bill Gates reveals he banned his children from mobile phones until they turned 14
Emily Retter

“We often set a time after which there is no screen time and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour.”

“You’re always looking at how it can be used in a great way – homework and staying in touch with friends – and also where it has gotten to excess.”

“We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal, we didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier.”

The Power of Disconnecting
Study: Kids who ditch smartphones for outdoor fun are ‘substantially’ better at reading emotions
Gregory Ferenstein

“A new study suggests that excessive smartphone use is hurting kids’ ability to read social cues…Researchers from UCLA took a random selection of sixth-grade students to an outdoor camp for five days. Compared to a control group, in the camp group, ‘we found that children who were away from screens for five days with many opportunities for in-person interaction improved significantly in reading facial emotion.'”

No One Said It Would Be Easy
One Family’s Tech Story – An interview with Adam Savage of Mythbusters

“My wife and I both grew up with restrictions on our television watching. We felt that that had a beneficial effect on us and we moved to implement that with the kids. But managing television time is a lot easier than managing smartphone time, especially now that so many different devices come with screens attached.”

“The most regular restriction we’ve had throughout my kids lives has been that they have to turn in their cell phones every night. This has not always gone as planned. They learned they could sneak upstairs and get their phones back after I’m asleep. They’ve learned that I’m much less likely to check if we have company over. One son even handed me a dummy phone every night for several weeks until he was caught.”

First Remove The Phone From Your Own Ear
How to Cut Children’s Screen Time? Say No to Yourself First.
Jane E. Brody

“Dr. Steiner-Adair is especially concerned about parental failure to pay full attention to their children ‘at critical times of the day, like when taking children to and from school. This should be a cell-free zone for everyone — no Bluetooth for parents or devices for the kids. The pickup from school is a very important transitional time for kids, a time for them to download their day. Parents shouldn’t be saying, ‘Wait a minute, I have to finish this call.””

“Likewise, she said, when parents come home from work, ‘they should walk in the door unplugged and use the first hour they’re home as time to reconnect with the family. Kids hate the phrase ‘just checking’ that parents frequently use to justify a very rude, infuriating behavior.'”

The Payoff Can Be Huge
Serious Learning Happens at Summer Camp – Without Technology
Stephen Gray Wallace

“16-year-old Jonah Bachman rediscovered the fun of reading after a five-year hiatus. ‘I forgot how much I loved reading!’ Since quitting his phone habit, he says he’s also more engaged with friends and the outdoors. ‘Often times I’ll sort of just find myself walking around … down to the ocean, just sort of being there,’ he says…”

“Brooke Hackel, 16, says life without technology first felt restrictive but now feels liberating…‘I feel like social media stresses me out a lot…And so not being able to have [the phone] prevents it completely. There’s nothing you can worry about, ’cause it’s out of your hands.'”

But In Case You Are Kidnapped
Why iPhones Don’t Go to Summer Camp
Anne K Fishel Ph.D.

“Camp directors tell me that they have had parents who tell their children to make an effort to get in front of the camp photographer every day and to, ‘hold up two fingers if you are all right, three fingers if you feel bad.'”

“This is, of course, the advice of a parent who has not really let go him or herself. This is advice that increases a child’s homesickness and undermines the child’s independent camp experience because the parent has required the child to ‘think about mom’ and ‘think about communicating with mom in secret’ using the camp’s technology, in this case the photo gallery on the camp website.”

[Originally published at We Disconnect on June 4, 2017]