Technology Fear Mongering at the Huffington Post

 On March 6th the Huffington Post posted a disgraceful bit of fear mongering by Cris Rowan under the title: 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12. They are pandering to insecure parents who are already at risk for over-protecting their children.

True, for optimal brain development children need full exposure to nature. They need full range of engagement with the complexity of the world. As much as possible they need to conduct their childish research on their environment—activity adults call “play.” Children need to invent games with random gangs of other children, play board games and card games, resolve conflicts, build with blocks and Legos, play with clay, paint pictures, help around the house, go on trips, participate in family meals (even if it’s no fun), do the dishes, make beds, take out the garbage, bake, argue, draw, explore, design, doodle, lolligag, stare “mindlessly” out the window, meditate, pray and sleep.

Kids should play with animals, collect firewood, plant a garden, nourish the plants, harvest the fruits of their labors, and participate with adults in the making of meals. They should build forts with living room furniture, build tree houses in the woods and go exploring, get lost and then found again.

katie reading to danaKids should play organized sports as well as organize their own sports. Kids should play with cars and dolls, go for walks, ride bikes, race. If the opportunity presents itself they should swim, ski, skate, ride horses. They should learn tennis, golf, chicken and mumbley peg.

Have I left anything out? I am sure I have. Please add to the list. What about playing house, or doctor or other imaginative play? Oh, yes, I almost forgot reading, researching, counting, writing, adding, subtracting, and gathering data.

If kids do 25% of these things they will be fine.

But does that mean that we should keep “technology” away from them until age 12? No. It means that we should let kids do as much of the above as possible INCLUDING technology. Rowan’s misuse of research to scare parents into keeping “technology out of the hands of kids” is blind to the obvious value we all get from technology, and grossly underestimates the genius in children.

dana on phone 3Sure, maybe a “steady diet” of “screen time” can compromise a child’s brain development, but so can complete lack of exposure to technology until the age of 12. Her article is laced with an embarrassing number of logical faults and emotional distortions.

Summarizing nine of the 10 points, “Over-exposure to technologies” has been shown to be “associated” with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning and decreased ability to self-regulate, tantrums, obesity, sleep deprivation, aggression, digital dementia and various addictions. Technology overuse is “implicated as a causal factor” in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior. (Did she forget alcoholism?)

If Rowan had confined herself to cell phones as the title implies, she would not have gotten much of an argument from me. There are a couple of good reasons: caution about radiation and maturity. But she doesn’t, and wraps up her pseudo science review with: “There is no future for children who over-use technology.” (I kept thinking, does she include Keurigs and Cuisinarts?)

Really? Schools have had computer labs for an entire generation. Some of the most successful people today spent an inordinate amount of time on computers growing up. Today one-to-one laptop programs are becoming an industry standard, and yet the average IQ continues to grow at 3 points per decade. Screen time may not cause intelligence, but it certainly doesn’t seem to make us stupider.
(Below: Dana learns Angry Birds from his big brother, Eli)

If kids aren’t paying attention in class maybe, it is because school has become dumber as kids have gotten smarter. Maybe, their brains are telling them there are much better ways to spend their time. Put a computer in a kid’s hands, and they will probably make something of themselves; send them to school, and they have a better than 50-50 chance to come out stupid, or bad, or both.

2013-08-09 18.27.12Sure, if children are on their cell phones all day long, stay up all night texting their friends and never exercise, never engage in imaginative play, never play with other children, never get out in nature, and so on, they are at risk. If your child seems addicted to technology, don’t listen to fear mongering. Spend more energy engaging him in alternatives.


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19 Responses to Technology Fear Mongering at the Huffington Post

  1. As always, Rick, you have such great insights! Thanks for debunking some important myths and how writers can use research in whatever way suits their purposes!

  2. Rick says:

    No, Thank, YOU.

  3. Gary Gruber says:

    Right on target, as usual, Rick! Keeping young children separated from an integral part of our culture is to deprive them of a learning experience that could, instead, serve them well in later years.
    My two cents worth…..

  4. Dawn says:

    “Spend more money engaging him in alternatives.” I wholeheartedly agree with your last statement, Rick! Unfortunately, many parents are not balancing things out. Kids are over-scheduled and spend way too much time with tech, via tv, video games, cell phones, and social media. It kills me when I see 2 year olds entranced by an iPad. They don’t need that at that age. It takes away from all those other activities you mentioned. So, while that article is exaggerated, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to open parents eyes about this. Tech time needs to be limited. Organized activities should not dominate. There needs to be more time for free play and just being a kid! Perhaps the author of the article should have focused on delaying the start of tech use in children. 8 and 10 year olds can benefit, but younger kids need to experience more natural forms of learning first. They have all their lives to be on tech!!!!!
    Thanks for bringing this up. It’s a conversation so worth having!

  5. Dawn says:

    Oops! I meant spend more ENERGY. Sorry.

  6. Rick says:

    Dawn, I think we agree (We usually do). But perhaps we differ on whether or not screen time necessarily Takes Away from play. Parents should definitely pay attention , but anything that contributes to their natural fear for their children usually results in counter-productive parental behavior.
    Also, I prefer distracting rather than subtracting; adding rather than taking things away.
    Ultimately it is about respecting and paying attention to a child’s genius.

  7. Ariadne says:

    Rick, thank you for this. There are so many wonderful ways to integrate technology into play and daily learning, I was so glad to see your response, as always full of wisdom!

  8. Dawn says:

    Yes, we agree more so than we disagree, Rick! It’s just that I have teenagers and I know how challenging it can be to encourage activities outside of tech, especially during the long, cold winter we’ve had! Come the spring, when they can get out, it will be A LOT easier for sure.

  9. Rick says:

    “Guess what, you guys. We are going to the museum of science and industry after lunch.”

  10. Todd says:

    Agree Rick!

    At the same time, parents are really struggling to find the right balance.

    The kids are pushing very very hard ALL THE TIME to do it, so it’s a challenge to “feel out the right mix,” as we do with so many other things. And they’re sneaky little buggers too.

    Thanks to the multi-functional nature of the devices (are you watching YouTube or doing your homework? Listening to music or playing games?), the cultural syndication of the importance of them, and the fact that we ourselves have an obsessive-compulsive relationship with them all conspires to make it very very hard to navigate this issue. I don’t know a single parent that doesn’t wrestle with it.

    It’s the bane of my existence.

  11. Amen, Rick. Thanks for pointing out the fear mongering. Has banning anything ever worked? Do I have a short memory or do we all (we being adults)?

  12. Christine says:

    Amen, Todd and Rick!
    It’s the ongoing struggle of the digital natives and the digital immigrants. How we define technology must continue to evolve. What about the digital tools integrated into my car? What about the app I just used to book our travel, or the one I just had my teenager order our dinner with? or the one I have on my kids’ phones to track them down in an emergency? Or that the best way to connect with my kids while traveling on business last night was to Skype them while they did homework (okay, one of them was playing Minecraft). Or the way we all, as a family, uploaded pics on Instagram from vacation a couple of weeks ago so our families and friends could connect with our experience? Yes it is the bane of my existence. Yet it also augments our lives in amazing ways. I agree that our memories are failing us – history is full of fear of the latest thing being our downfall. To be clear – I do monitor tech use like crazy from afar. But I struggle with the right amount of tech use just as much as my kids do – it is integral to our lives, and to pull back too much isn’t preparing anyone for the realities of a world where apps/gamification/”technology” isn’t something distinctly separate.

  13. Rick says:

    Good thing for parents and kids to have real conversations about. Most kids will have some very sensible things to say. Many will be even stricter than their parents if they put their parent hats on.

  14. Kelly Homolka says:

    My 14 year old son spends several hours a day on his computer. He is coding his first video game and plans to be a programmer. For several years before he made that decision, I fretted that he spent too much time in front of a screen. Now I am thrilled that he has found his calling so early in life. Trust your children and your instincts as a mother. Don’t ban anything, just aim for balance. It all works out in the end.

  15. Rick says:

    Thanks, Kelly. I don’t know about balance, but you can definitely trust the genius in every child.

  16. Rick says:

    From Larry:
    Yeah. It’s not the kids in my neighborhood I’m worried about, it’s the adults. Kids also have cell phones and smartphones and other “hand-held devices,” but I usually see them in groups – anywhere from two to twelve of them together, chattering, laughing poking each other, doing all the things that healthy kids have always done since before Socrates. I worry about the adults because I think they may be missing the world. The natural beauty of it, the hustle and bustle of it, they seem way too buried in their machines. But not the kids. Don’t worry about them. The kids are fine

  17. Pingback: Ten Ways Bad Technology Is Good For Your Kids. - The Genius in Children

  18. Bobby Richman says:

    Dear Rick,
    One very important thing unmentioned in your list of things kids should do. Kids need to listen to and play music (preferably with others). This helps them to more fully express their emotions and to strengthen their neuronal connections.

  19. Rick says:

    Thank you, Bobby. I can’t believe I forget music!!! If kids could do only one thing, that would be the top of my list. Also, theater, especially improve acting

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