Yes, Limits On Your Child’s Tech Usage Are A Good Thing

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)
Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

In a recent Education Week post, author Benjamin Herold gave a synopsis of Common Sense Media’s report, “Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy, and Finding Balance.”   Herold’s article can be found here.

By way of background, Common Sense Media was a Gates Foundation grant recipient in 2013, and again in 2015.  Any “report” ostensibly funded by Gates money; the man who would have 1:1 tech devices in the hands of every student as often as possible, should be read cautiously, recognizing the potential for bias.

Herold’s article summarized a number of findings from the report, but there were two in particular that could have an adverse effect on how parents and caregivers perceive the use of media by today’s pre-teens and teens.  And not necessarily for the better.

One of the big takeaways from the Education Week article was that researchers have not established any formal link between social media usage and decreasing empathy among teens, and research on the impact of extensive technology usage on social, emotional, and cognitive development is “surprisingly limited. “

Yet, research is not surprisingly limited.  It’s actually fairly easy to locate studies that report excessive media use can lead to increased reports of mental health issues (children twice as likely to report mental ill-health), decreased sensitivity to emotional cues, school difficulties (heavy media users report lower grades), eating disorders (strong correlation between  increased use of internet and discontentment with weight, and body shame), sleep difficulties (greater risk of sleep disturbances, stress), structural and functional changes in brain regions, and obesity (obesity associated with frequent television/video use).  What is surprisingly limited are studies or research concluding that excessive exposure to digital media is beneficial for kids.

According to a Pew Research study, 92% of teens reported going online daily and 24% of those reported being online “constantly.”  Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices.  This number doesn’t include the amount of exposure kids are getting at school, especially with the current tech-to-the-rescue mindset of education reformers, none of which has been shown to be beneficial to student performance.  In fact, more and more research seems to conclude all the tech exposure in school isn’t helping to improve educational outcomes, anyway.  For example, using laptops to take notes resulted in shallower processing.  And in another study, students who used digital devices performed worse in class.

The most questionable research finding Herold quoted in the Education Week article, was that, “…children of technology limiters…are most likely to engage in problematic behaviors such as posting hostile comments or impersonating others online, whereas children of media mentors are much less likely to engage in problematic online behaviors.”  For reference “technology limiters” are parents with concerns about the impact of technology use.

That statement raised more than a few neck hairs and rightly so.  Suggesting parents should loosen the constraints on screen time, social media, texting, and gaming to avoid raising a generation of cyberbullies plays on every parent’s emotions.  Nobody wants to be the parent who raised a troublemaker.

However, the basis for concluding technology limiters produce more online troublemakers came solely from an article published in The Atlantic in November 2015, written by a social media speaker and strategist whose career focuses on create compelling content and leveraging social media to spread it.  Frankly, it’s irresponsible for Common Sense Media to cite it as a credible source, or for Education Week to regurgitate the information at a time when tech use by kids is rife with anxiety.

As a parent, I prefer the philosophy of more widely recognized names in the tech industry.  Steve Jobs, for instance, said in a New York Times article, “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”  In the same article, Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired, talked about why he and his wife have strict tech limitations for their children.  He stated, “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.  I’ve seen it in myself.  I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

Enough said.