The Right Time For Screen Time

The headline in a New York Times article this week said it best – “Coronavirus Ended the Screen-Time Debate. Screens Won“.

With 9 out of every 10 kids around the world now forced to be at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the real-world challenges of how to communicate, be entertained, and learn are all being solved by screens (whether we like it or not).

To be clear, this debate has been all the rage since the iPhone first came out in 2007. Tons of articles have been written to strike fear into the hearts of parents and educators. There’s something for everyone, from the latest research on what screens are doing to your kid’s brain to the best tips on how to manage healthy screen time for children. A whole cottage industry has cropped up to help parents find the best screen-time apps to prevent your kids from turning into little zombies. Everyone was afraid of screens, until we were forced to reassess our relationship with them.

The truth is we lost the battle with screens a while ago. Kids have been increasingly using screens over the past decade for everything from watching videos to playing games to surfing the web. Perhaps one reason we are discussing this now is that parents are finally seeing up close and personal how often their kids are using screens!

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So we’re now coming to terms with the fact that “normal” screen time rules for kids no longer apply. However, this is not a new debate.

A Screen Is Just A Screen

Back in the day, the advent of television caused a similar debate. The original screen time was of deep concern for parents, educators, and scientists. Was TV good or bad for children? The answer is the unsatisfying yet practical “it depends”. Some recent studies have shown contradictory findings and inconclusive results to establish a direct connection between TV screen time and bad outcomes. The same can be said for today’s more digitally-savvy screens like iPhones and iPads.

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Using Good Judgement

As the esteemed Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek has noted, “it’s recommended that we find balance between screen and non-screen time—a balance that is dependent on the nature of the child (temperament), the child’s age, and the content in question.” One of my father’s favorite sayings to share with me was “use good judgement”. Now with a four and a half-year old boy and a two year old girl, my father’s wise advice seems more relevant than ever. I ultimately view all technology as just a “tool”. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s all about how we use it.

Digital is here to stay. Generation Alpha is the first generation to be born 100% digital. They will interact with screens and tech in ways that will make them fundamentally different from any cohort before them. For a great read about this, check out Jordan Shapiro’s “The New Childhood: Raising Kids To Thrive In The Connected World.”

Professor Scott Galloway had a great observation, “Things won’t change as much as they will accelerate. While other crises reshaped the future, COVID-19 is just making the future happen faster.” The pandemic is going to forever change Generation Alpha.

Everyone is noticing this screen-filled future arriving faster. This week GSV Ventures hosted a Zoom virtual summit on “the dawn of the age of digital learning”. And SXSW is scheduled to hold a virtual panel entitled “Screen Time for 1.9 B Kids: What’s the Future?“.

The reality is screens will be an ever-increasing tool for kids today. Until the next wave of technology. While screens are ruling our lives now, don’t underestimate all of the new technologies that will come to dominate over the next decade. Gen Alpha is already accustomed to using voice technology like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant. Time will only tell how those technologies will impact them. Until then, Gen Alpha will be making the most of their screens, because today, that’s the only tool they have to connect with and learn about the world.

Things won’t change as much as they will accelerate. While other crises reshaped the future, COVID-19 is just making the future happen faster. – Prof. Scott Galloway

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