What was your childhood like?
Screens (beyond the television) played a pervasive part in my upbringing. We were one of the first families to have a set-top video game platform (first Pong, then Atari 2600). We had a personal computer long before anyone knew what to do with them. My brothers and I would spend countless hours tag-teaming the programming code of a clown bouncing up and down from the magazine of Compute, only to spend many more hours looking for typos and trying to de-bug our failed attempts.
I was once sent home from school, because I had written a book report and printed it up on a dot matrix printer, instead of writing it by hand. The teacher said that they couldn't be sure I had written it, because it was printed by a primitive home printer and not in my own handwriting. With all of that screen time, I still wasted countless hours watching cartoons and television... and playing video games. Looking back, those screens anesthetized my thinking. Time that should have been spent reading, writing, drawing or whatever. Instead, I sat there. Staring. Into the glow of the tubes. Sure, the video games may have helped with some hand-eye coordination, but the technology was still nascent.
What about now?
Video games look real. The better video games require strategy, thinking, leadership skills, communications skills and more. Few people just sit and stare at their iPads, most are deeply engaged, creating, sharing and curating. Still, when we think about smartphones, tablets and kids, we let our dogma creep in. It's hard to read the MediaPost news item, Kids Using Tablets, Apps More, and not feel like we may be doing some kind of damage to the future generations due to the massive growth in their usage of these devices.
From the article: "According to research from The NPD Group, nearly 80 per cent of parents who have children between the ages of 2 and 14 have some type of mobile device (such as a cell phone, smartphone or tablet) -- a jump of 16 per cent over the previous year. In 2012, after conducting its first study looking at kids and apps, fewer than half the families surveyed had smart devices, and only about a third of children had used a tablet or smartphone. This year, 51 per cent of children had used a smartphone or tablet, and furthermore, nearly 40 per cent of these kids were considered a primary user of these devices."
Is this good news or bad news?
This week, Google hosted their invite-only event Google Zeitgeist in Phoenix, Arizona. During a session titled, Dare To Challenge, Campbell Brown (CNN and NBC News) asked Joel Klein (CEO of Amplify and former New York City School Chancellor) about kids, screens and constant connectivity. It's a precarious issue with many different value-based thoughts along with disparate research about whether or not it's good for kids to be in front of screens as much as they are.
His comments were somewhat surprising, intensely pragmatic and very raw: "What is the kid doing on the screen? That's what is important." Yes, kids must learn how to ride a bike, speak a different language, have good diction and a proper handwriting style, but these are no longer dumb screens pushing asinine content out there (granted, there is plenty of that too, online), but the screen when used properly is a tool that can unfurl a level of creativity and curiosity that is, without question, something most of us could have never imagined having access to. It is a three-dimensional library -- text, images, audio and video -- that gives us access to some of the smartest people and skills in the world. In fact, some of the best apps for young people will help them learn how to ride a bike, speak a different language, understand proper diction and develop a better handwriting style.
Yes, these connected devices can help us future-proof education like nothing we have seen to date.
Apps that facilitate learning, platforms like Khan Academy to better understand myriad concepts taught in school that some teachers struggle to teach and beyond are powerful ways for kids to learn more. It's easy to to get sidelined by a random BuzzFeed piece on Two Photos Of A Bunny Taking Care Of Mini Pigs That Will Instantly Put You In A Better Mood Unless You Don't Have A Soul or a YouTube video of cats chasing laser pointers, but that would be missing the point.
If you were a parent in the '70s or '80s and you allowed your children to watch TV, you were using the TV as a cheap babysitter. The better parents would -- at the very least -- encourage these kids to watch something educational, but most of the programming lacked any sort of true depth and interaction. What we quickly realize is that Klein is right. Tablets and smartphones (or whatever wearable technology these devices of today evolve into for these younger generations) will be their notebooks, pens, communication channel, publishing platform, classroom and more. This doesn't mean that we need kids today with their noses constantly buried into these screens, but it does mean that we all need to do a much better job of understanding that screens are no longer the things we use to waste time and take our collective minds off of our day-to-day lives. These screens have come alive, and a child's ability to understand this, work with them and -- ultimately -- use them to create something is going to be a key indicator of their ability to be successful in life.
The diet answer.
Whether it's a need to lose weight, quit a bad habit or start exercising, everything is about moderation. This includes kids and screens. The challenge is this: what adults do you know that are able to keep the screens at bay? Not for their children, but for themselves. Look around. Restaurants, bars, the middle of meetings, family functions and more. Adults are terrible managers when it comes to their own exposure to screens, so it should come as no surprise that kids -- from a younger and younger age -- have this innate desire to have a screen in front of them. If we are ever to have moderation, it is the adults that need to lead by example. If we are ever to have kids that will benefit from screens, instead of wasting their time on it, it is the adults who will have to do a better job of figuring out ways to turn these devices from a time killer into an idea generator. Technology has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, we need to ensure that we do a better job of showing these young people, the potential and not the waste.
Klein is right: this isn't about how much time kids spend with screens, it's about what's on the screen. So, what's on your screen?
Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image - one of North America's largest independent digital marketing agencies. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller. His latest book, CTRL ALT Delete, is out now.
Teens and Technology" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Fully 95% of teens are online, a percentage that has been consistent since 2006. Yet, the nature of teens’ internet use has transformed dramatically during that time ... Teens are just as likely to have a cell phone as they are to have a desktop or laptop computer. And increasingly these phones are affording teens always-on, mobile access to the internet — in some cases, serving as their primary point of access."
Preschoolers Can Learn Great Things From TV" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Huffington Post (to read the actual study, visit Pediatrics -- subscription required) Gist: "New research out today by Dr Christakis finds that putting our time and energy into working to improve what our children watch, not just how much they watch, can have a positive impact on their behavior -- even for children as young as 3 years of age."
Media and Violence: An Analysis of Current Research " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "While longitudinal research does allow us to speak in terms of a 'causal' relationship, it is probably more accurate and useful to think about media violence as a 'risk factor' rather than a 'cause' of violence — one variable among many that increases the risk of violent behavior among some children."
Source: Reuters (to read the actual study, visit JAMA Pediatrics -- log-in required) Gist: "[R]esearchers said the new study backs up earlier findings showing too much screen time and not enough exercise may be separate issues that parents and schools need to address independently."
How Families Interact on Facebook " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Facebook Gist: "We investigated anonymized and automatically processed posts and comments by people self-identified as parents and children to understand how conversation patterns with each other might be a bit different from those with their other friends."
Parents, Teens, and Online Privacy " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Most parents of teenagers are concerned about what their teenage children do online and how their behavior could be monitored by others. Some parents are taking steps to observe, discuss, and check up on their children’s digital footprints."
Public Supports Expanded Internet Safety Requirements to Protect Kids" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health Gist: "In this Poll, nearly two out of three adults expressed strong support for proposed COPPA updates, including requiring apps designed for kids to confirm that users are at least 13 and prohibiting apps from collecting personal information from users under age 13."
The Online Generation Gap" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Family Online Safety Institute Gist: "These surveys indicate that teens’ concerns about their online safety parallel parents’ concerns more closely than parents realize and that many teens are taking steps to protect their privacy and personal information. Nonetheless, teens suggest that parents are not as informed about what their teens do online as parents think they are, and some teens are taking risks by providing personal information to strangers online."
Children, Teens, and Entertainment Media: The View From The Classroom" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "America’s teachers -- whether they are long-time classroom veterans or young, tech-savvy ones, at wealthy schools or low-income schools, public or private, elementary or high school -- surface relatively consistent concerns: Students are having issues with their attention span, writing, and face-to-face communication, and, in the experience of teachers, children’s media use is contributing to the problem. On the plus side, teachers find that young people’s facility with media is helping them find information quickly and multitask more effectively."
How Teens Do Research in the Digital World" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Three-quarters of AP [Advanced Placement] and NWP [National Writing Project] teachers say that the internet and digital search tools have had a 'mostly positive' impact on their students’ research habits, but 87% say these technologies are creating an 'easily distracted generation with short attention spans' and 64% say today’s digital technologies 'do more to distract students than to help them academically.'"
Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "Three out of four teens have social networking sites, and half of all teens are on their sites on a daily basis. But despite our concerns about social media, in the vast majority of cases, these media do not appear to be causing great tumult in teenagers’ lives."
Teens, Smartphones and Texting: Texting Volume Is Up While Frequency of Voice Calling Is Down" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user. The frequency of teens' phone chatter with friends - on cell phones and landlines - has fallen. But the heaviest texters are also the heaviest talkers with their friends.”
Impact of an Active Video Game on Healthy Children’s Physical Activity" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: "There was no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at anytime, than children receiving the inactive video games."
Teens, Kindness And Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American Teens Navigate the New World of “Digital Citizenship”" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “As social media use has become pervasive in the lives of American teens, a new study finds that 69% of the teenagers who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another on such sites. Still, 88% of these teens say they have witnessed people being mean and cruel to another person on the sites, and 15% report that they have been the target of mean or cruel behavior on social network sites.”
Preschool-Aged Children’s Television Viewing in Child Care Settings " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “We found that children in as many as 70% of home-based child care settings and 36% of center-based child care settings watch television daily. More importantly, when television is viewed at all, infants and children spend 2 to 3 hours watching in home-based programs and ~1.5 hours watching in center-based programs.”
Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “This updated policy statement provides further evidence that media—both foreground and background—have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years. Thus, the AAP reafﬁrms its recommendation to discourage media use in this age group. This statement also discourages the use of background television intended for adults when a young child is in the room.”
Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "Nine-month-olds spend nearly an hour a day watching television or DVDs, 5-year-olds are begging to play with their parents’ iPhones, and 7-year-olds are sitting down in front of a computer several times a week to play games, do homework, or check out how their avatars are doing in their favorite virtual worlds. Television is still as popular as ever, but reading may be beginning to trend downward. Having an accurate understanding of the role of media in children’s lives is essential for all of those concerned about promoting healthy child development: parents, educators, pediatricians, public health advocates, and policymakers, to name just a few."
Cell Phone Study ‘Misleading’: Children May Still Be At Increased Cancer Risk, Experts Say " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: The Huffington Post Gist: “[E]xperts have some serious concerns regarding the methods and conclusions of the first study evaluating the connection between cell phone radiation and brain cancer in children and teens. Not only was the study flawed, they note, but it was also financially supported by the cell phone industry.”
Children's Screen Viewing Is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “This study found that greater television and computer use was related to greater psychological difﬁculties, independent of gender, age, level of deprivation, pubertal status, and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time.”
Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: "Viewing television and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood. It seems that a similar association among television, video games, and attention problems exists in late adolescence and early adulthood."
Teens, Cell Phones and Texting: Text Messaging Becomes Centerpiece Communication " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “Fully two-thirds of teen texters say they are more likely to use their cell phones to text their friends than talk to them to them by cell phone.”
Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation Gist: “Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.”
Follow Mitch Joel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mitchjoel