Q: As a mother and a student examining media as a social issue, I’m concerned that technology is decreasing youth’s ability to communicate face-to-face, largely because most of their communication and activities are done through a screen. Is there evidence for this concern?
~ Face Facts, Bridgeport, CT
A: Dear Face,
Young people walk hand in hand, talking to others on their phones. They sit at a restaurant together, staring down at their mobile screens. It is now rare to see youth without a phone in hand, earbuds plugged in, texting, instagramming or tweeting. And with all of their scrolling, playing, photographing and status updating, they often miss out on the people and experiences happening around them. They have more connectivity than ever – and far less connectedness to others and to the world. …
The explosion of tech and screens into the lives of children is outrageously obvious to me as a pediatrician. Besides the fact that most kids and parents seem to be attached to a phone or tablet when I enter the exam room, when I ask questions about how kids spend their days (and nights), screens seem to be part of everything.
You’d think that I’d get questions from parents about screen time and about how best to use devices with their kids. But I don’t. Like, never.
This is weird, because I feel like I get asked about everything else that touches a child or is part of a child’s life. I think I have been asked every possible question about food, sleep, toys, school, after-school activities, playgroups, strollers, summer camps, shoes, coats, soaps, pajamas… I’m not kidding; I get asked about everything.
But not screens. I used to get asked about when kids should get a cell phone, but I don’t even get that question anymore.
I figure that there are three possible reasons. It could be that screens are so commonplace that people don’t think to ask about them. It’s certainly true that they are becoming ubiquitous; currently two-thirds of US adults have a smartphone, a proportion which has nearly doubled since 2011.
Yeah, but shoes are even more ubiquitous and I get questions about those. So maybe not.
It could also be that parents feel like they know everything there is to know and don’t need my advice. I think that’s probably the case for some parents — although given how new some of this technology is, I am impressed with their knowledge.
I think that the most likely reason is that parents are afraid of what I’ll say. They think that I will tell them to turn off all the screens or take the screens away from their kids. And that would be such a drag, right? Because let’s face it, screens are pretty great. Besides the fact that smartphones, tablets, computers and other devices are remarkably useful, they are remarkably entertaining, too. And we all know that happy kids make for happy parents. …