As our embrace of technology continues at full speed, there’s a shift afoot among some children’s advocates. They are pushing parents to view screen time as less an enemy and more of a potential ally.
This is a new approach, one that acknowledges that technology is, and will only become more of, a constant companion to our children. Just accept screen time, they say, and look for ways that it can be most beneficial to our kids.
One campaign, launched by the Family Online Safety Institute at the National Press Club last week, is called “A Platform For Good.” Its intent is to help parents connect with their kids online and steer them toward worthy efforts.
Or, as FOSI executives put it: to “encourage good digital citizenship, responsible online behavior, and the use of technology for positive change and making a difference.”
Another was an initiative launched by the non-profit Children’s Partnership and was directed at the online gaming industry, not parents. It encourages the industry to provide parents and their kids with more opportunities to direct the money they spend on virtual purchases toward fundraising causes.
“Kids and their parents spend a substantial amount of money on games, creating a strong nexus for game company corporate responsibility focused on the cause of kids. Already, some companies have donated revenue from gamers to causes, most notably when Zynga raised $4 million for Haiti,” the report says.
A companion report pointed out how there’s been a 100 percent increase in the sale of virtual goods in games.
These may not seem like ground-breaking ideas. They do, however, fly in the face of the pervasive and guilt-inducing idea that a parent’s primary responsibility when it comes to kids and technology is to sever the tie.
After all, the American Academy of Pediatrics last year renewed its long-standing advice for parents to restrict all screen time for babies and limit it to only short time periods for older children. This advice is a bit like the much-derided government advice for adults to get an hour of exercise a day.
That may be a noble goal in a perfect world, but most of us are trying to just get through the day. As every new technology is introduced, the AAP advice has less and less connection to reality.
Just last week, a survey by Qualcomm reported that more half of parents asked said the right time for a child to receive his own smartphone is between ages 8 and 13 and 74 percent said they had downloaded an app on their own gadgets for a child to use.
Plus, the Associated Press reported that at the top of the Toys R Us latest “hot toys” list is the new tablet for tots, Tableo.
The best way to combat the debilitating effects of screen time, then, may not be to continue the denial that we are limiting it, or even controlling it. It may be to rejigger our assumptions.
All screens, after all, are not equal.
“We’re a generation that feels at home on Facebook and Tumblr, and we can have the most impact on this playing field we understand,” wrote Adora Svitak, a teen organizer in support of the FOSI effort.
“Just because these are sites we use for many non-serious pursuits doesn’t mean we can’t use them — to great effect — for starting our movements and standing up for the issues we care about.”
How much screen time do your kids get? Is this something you feel guilty about or something that you think could be beneficial? Do you watch or play on those screens together with your kids?