Kids on Laptop

Child Safety and Digital Devices

The amount of screen time we are giving our kids has become a controversial topic. In part, this is because both sides have very good arguments.

My Take

On one hand, it seems that we are better preparing our kids for the digital world that they will face in their professional future if we get them accustomed to and skilled with the use of digital devices early on, when learning is natural and intrinsic. They might learn some basic coding, which everyone will need not too far in the future. They will become the “digital natives” that we hear so much about.

But on the other hand, there are some consequences of this screen time. We worry that our youngest kids are not socializing effectively. The apps targeted at this age are single-player and at best interact with a cartoon substitute for friends. If they were opened up to the social network, we would have to worry about privacy issues not to mention pedophiles. And instead of the wide open exploration of the world they get by playing in the sandbox and developing their creativity, they are playing in heavily scripted and often branded games that train their hand-eye coordination and simple cognitive skills like matching. But that is severely limited.

And then as they grow older, they encounter new and often more serious consequences. But also new and often more beneficial experiences. What to do???

Excessive use of computer games among young people in China appears to be taking an alarming turn and may have particular relevance for American parents whose children spend many hours a day focused on electronic screens. The documentary “Web Junkie,” to be shown next Monday on PBS, highlights the tragic effects on teenagers who become hooked on video games, playing for dozens of hours at a time often without breaks to eat, sleep or even use the bathroom. Many come to view the real world as fake.

On last week’s Innovation Hub there was a segment covering this conundrum. The guest mentioned something in passing that stuck with me all day. He noted that we don’t give our kids unconstrained access to cars, even though they will be interacting with cars for the rest of their lives. Why are digital devices different?

So I started thinking about how kids interact with cars. At the youngest age, we require the use of rear-facing infant seats. Then they graduate to child seats, booster seats, and then finally adult seats with mandatory lap and shoulder belts.

They might be able to start driving at 16 with a Driver’s Ed course, otherwise they have to wait until 17. Some states have teenager constraints in which teen drivers can’t drive after 11pm and can’t drive with more than two other teens in the car (assuming the distraction of the conversation and the risk of being dared into aggressive behavior increases with the number of passengers).

Your Turn

I wondered what the equivalent of these safety requirements would be for digital devices. Rather than overtax my brain at 10am on a Saturday morning, I thought that this was a great opportunity to crowdsource the question.

Are there equivalents in the design or parental supervision of digital devices? Or are there any that you would suggest?

We look forward to hearing your ideas.

Image Credit: Lucélia Ribeiro

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