Coming as no particular surprise to anyone with a pulse, last month a group of former Silicon Valley employees revealed that tech titans such as Google and Facebook aren’t doing enough to stem children’s online use, and so founded a campaign called Truth About Tech designed to educate kids and parents of the dangers of internet addiction. Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, now senior fellow at Common Sense Media, who part-funded the campaign says that the internet giants are “engaged in a full-blow arms race to capture and retain human attention”, including “the attention of children”. He continues: “Technologists, engineers, and designers have the power and responsibility to hold themselves accountable and build products that create a better world.”
Last year, Bill Gates told the Mirror that he not only limits his kids’ internet use, but didn’t allow them to have mobile phones until they were 14. When Steve Jobs was asked what his children thought of the original iPad, he stated that they hadn’t used it. “Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things,” writes Walter Isaacson in his biography of the Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. “No one ever pulled out an iPad or a computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”
Of course, the digital age dictates that kids need to be tech-savvy. For all the studies that prove too much online time to have a detrimental effect on children’s development, there are plenty more that show sensible usage can progress kids’ cognitive capabilities. What is not in question, however, is that in terms of safety and mental health, internet hours must be monitored and restricted.
Common Sense states that US teenagers dedicate up to nine hours a day to media, with tweens averaging six hours. Half of all teens admit to feeling addicted to their mobile devices, while 60% of their parents believe them to be hooked. Another US study by tech author Jean Twenge revealed more than half of heavy internet users to feel unhappy, 27% to be more prone to depression, and more than a third to be an elevated suicide risk. “Tech companies are conducting a massive, real-time experiment on our kids, and, at present, no one is really holding them accountable,” says Common Sense CEO James P Steyer. “Their business models often encourage them to do whatever they can to grab attention and data and then to worry about the consequences later, even though those very same consequences may at time hurt the social, emotional, and cognitive development of kids.”
Smart Tips for Smart Parents & Smarter Kids
- Lead by example, if you’re heads always buried in your laptop or mobile phone, chances are your kids’ will be too. They may also play up to get your attention.
- Have family media-free times, like during meals or driving.
- Consider making some rooms media-free.
- Strictly no phones at the dinner table.
- It’s a good idea to keep devices out of the bedroom too, meaning you can easier monitor your children’s online activities.
- Encourage your kids to educate themselves as they browse, with these cool apps, all available on both Android and iOS.
- Tynker Coding for Kids: a highly visual, easy-to-use app that enables your little ones to build their own computer code. Other fun features include coding games, coding courses, and the ability to program drones.
- Bee-bot: Aimed at children four and over, Bee-bot develops kids’ directional and programming skills as they navigate the app’s star character faster and faster over 12 levels. The better they do, the more stars they’ll collect.
- Shapes Toddler Preschool: Designed to enable kids to prepare for preschool with this app’s colourful games involving numbers, letters, and shapes
A 2015 report by the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) studied more than half-a-million 15-year-olds across 73 countries, and concluded the time Kiwi kids spent online to be “extreme”, with the number of those online for more than six hours per weekday nearly tripling to 17.3% since 2012. Last year, a study by Auckland University’s Department of Statistics discovered that eight in 10 teenagers have no screen time limits placed on them by their parents or guardians, dropping to a still pretty grim six in 10 at primary school age.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “digital media exposure for children of all ages should be limited”. They recommend a blanket ban on screen time for infants 18 months or younger, to aid both brain development and garner healthy parent-child relations. Children aged 2-5 should be introduced to screens for a maximum of an hour per day, outside that, parents need to “prioritise creative, unplugged playtime”. Once children get older, then things get trickier, as parents also need to consider the potential intellectual benefits of certain online endeavours.
A regular day should include “school, homework time, at least one hour of physical activity, social contact and sleep — which is anywhere from eight to 12 hours for kids,” Dr Yolanda Reid Chassiakos of UCLA tells CNN. “Whatever’s left over can be screen time.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces