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Do Kids Experience Too Much Screen Time?

Posted by Mark Stansell on Apr 3, 2018 8:23:32 AM
Mark Stansell

When I think back to the days when I was in school, April and May were always the best months - leading up to the summer. Baseball season was starting up, the days were longer, the weather was warmer, and summer - if you stood on your very tippy toes - you could see summer coming up! Ok, the last part was made up, but we really used to think that we could see the next day if we climbed a tree or stood on the roof.

Being a kid in the summer back then was like the best times ever. We would wake up at the crack of noon, run outside with our football, basketball, and baseball gear all tucked under an arm and see who was outside to play with. We had Eugene's house down the street with a basketball goal in the driveway, Jeff and Barbie's house with a pool, or our backyard - big enough for a pickup baseball or football game. Our moms would make us snacks and lunch that we would eat as we were running or riding our bikes to the next activity. Sometimes we would wander down to the canal and toss in our fishing lines to see what we could catch. Our dog - a mix between a boxer and german shepherd - would tag along, sometimes getting into scuffles with other dogs who were roaming the neighborhood, but always sticking by our sides.

Born in 1959, I grew up in the 1960s & 1970s really. Things were different then.  Don't misunderstand me, I don't pine for those days. I don't wish my kids could experience those same experiences, but I do relish their memory! Those were good times, with good people and I am grateful for having lived in that time. 

Today kids have different lives. They are inundated with digital technology. We had one television channel from which to choose - two if it rained. Kids today have hundreds. We had paper routes and lawns to mow if we wanted some pocket change, kids today have Delivery Dudes, or pool cleaning - and lawns still exist. 

Kids today have new and exciting challenges and opportunities. Their world is not worse or better - it's simply different.  I recall hearing my parents and grandparents rail about our choice of music, hair styles, clothes. They thought our generation was going to ruin the world with rock and roll, shaggy hair and hip huggers. That didn't happen.

I hear parents worry about hip-hop or electronic music as the beginning of the end of "good music." My dad said that Led Zeppelin was the worse noise he had ever heard, as he placed the needle on his new Nat King Cole record. (Don't get me wrong, Nat King Cole was an incredibly talented performer, but Led Zeppelin was not the end of music as my father had predicted.)

I hear parents today worry about the digital nature of our children's existence. "Too much screen time," they say. While I will agree that "consuming" digital content should be balanced with other endeavors, I would also argue that we cannot begin to pretend that we know what the future is going to look like for these kids. In much the same way that my father wanted badly to have his children experience the same things he had, and enjoy the same music he enjoyed, I fear many times we get hung up on one thing (the Led Zeppelin effect) and cannot see the possibilities within.

Screen time, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. What we should be focused on, as parents and teachers, is what exactly are our kids consuming or - more importantly - what are they creating.

Who would have guessed, in 1990, that the "car phone" would turn out to be 1) affordable enough so that 80% of world might have one (and be called simply a cell phone) and 2) become your device of choice - even over your desktop computer?

Because of examples such as the cell phone, we know that our children's adult world will be infinitely transformed from our adult world. Self driving cars are at the doorstep. Packages delivered by drones are moments away. Who knows what else this generation will create?

My advice to parents? Let go of your own past, and allow your children to prepare for THEIR future. Get them enrolled in coding classes or camp. Let them explore their artistic side - pottery, photography, film, storytelling. 

Today's kids are tomorrow's innovators. Let us not be the ones who stifled their creativity in the name of "the good ole' days."

Tags: stem education, teaching, learning

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