Editorial

The next decade: Embracing the screen

After a long and playful day at daycare, my 21-month old son, after greeting his mother with a cheery “Hi, ma-ma,” immediately started chanting “teedee, bookoo” as he does every time we walk through the front door of our house. For those uneducated in the slightly underdeveloped pidgin language of the pre-toddler population, “teedee, bookoo” means (in certain dialects), “If you would be so kind as to turn on the TV and start an episode of Blue’s Clues for me, I would greatly appreciate it, and I may even consider going to bed nicely for you if my wishes are granted.” He knows exactly how this is done, too. He’ll pick up the Xbox 360 controller, knowing to turn the console on by pressing the green button in the middle, and bring it to me, wildly exclaiming “Da-Da, teedee!” until I navigate to the “Play DVD” option on the dashboard, and play the Blue's Clues DVD of his.

You see, my son is a poster child of the new generation of geeklings. Ever since he was even remotely mobile, he gravitated towards technology and devices of all sorts. Phones, cameras, computers, you name it, he was into it. And he won’t have a knockoff Fischer-Price version of the tech, either. No, he needs the real thing. He wants to play with real laptops, real touchscreen smartphones, and he could confidently tell the difference between the authentic Dell XPS and the Mattel Laptop Learner since before he could eat independently. He can barely get two words to stick together in his mouth, yet he knows the how to “slide to unlock” a smartphone. He sits around in his own poopy (I’m a parent; I’m allowed to use words like that), yet he can turn the TV on and off with the remote control. It’s fascinating; it’s sometimes awe-inspiring.

Image credit: ABC

This used to scare me because we’re constantly bombarded with the culture around us that shuns the screen as a dangerous barrier to proper early childhood development. This idea has been a part of pop psychology since the early days of television, and especially since video games started inexplicably creeping up on the movie industry in terms of profit margins. As many parents started seeing their children becoming desensitized to ideas and behaviors that they themselves wouldn’t dream of involving themselves in, they turned their pointing fingers to the screen as the criminal that “ruined” their children. This antagonizing of the digital medium is as ingrained in our collective psyche as our careful aversion of fatty foods. It’s a necessary evil; something that should be enjoyed once in a while, but always in moderation, and always with a certain pang of guilt. Obviously, some feel these pangs more than others, but it’s still there nonetheless. Those of us in the IT industry can attest to the fact that when we tell our friends (with a certain sense of pride) that we spend more than 8 hours a day on front of a screen of some sort, we receive in return a look of pity, and sometimes even revulsion.

Then I read an article that Time magazine published in 2009. It said, shockingly, that there have really only been two proper scientific studies published that investigate the effects of television and infants over time. You’d think there would be books on the subject at this point. However, it seems that the hordes of parenting periodicals and pop psychologists are happy with the current fads in parenting decisions, accepting the opinion of the general public over hard science. Either way, according to the more recent of the two studies, there is no evidence that 1.5 hours of television a day for the first two years of a child's life will hurt the cognitive, motor, or verbal skills of that child by the time they turn three. The study actually turns the tables on the parents in their findings. You see, at first, there was a very clear correlation between the lower-performing children at age 3 and the amount of TV they watched during their first 2 years. However, the researchers soon came to the realization that when you include other environmental factors into the equation, like the education level and financial capability of the parents, the initial theory falls apart somewhat. The truth is, the study concludes, that many of the children who performed badly at age 3 were only watching TV in the first place because their parents didn’t have the ability or drive to involve themselves in the educational development of their child. They posit that a good portion of the kids that scored low probably would have scored just as low without the influence of the digital realm, simply due to lack of parenting and involvement. Television was found to be significantly detrimental only when it was an “outgrowth of other characteristics of the home environment that lead to lower test scores." The study didn’t go so far as to say that TV was definitely not unhealthy, but they were not ready to say that it was a bad thing. What they were able to say with confidence is that parenting plays a large role in the development of a child (shocking, right?).

  

Image Credit: Mademan.com

As we boldly head into the second decade of the 21st century, as technology becomes an ever more powerful influence on the development of our children and students, we can’t help but watch the next generation of nerdlings embrace the digital world as their comfort zone, their second nature and their portal to worlds yet unknown. Whether or not the old guard of society likes it, Generation LOL has embraced the screen, and has chosen to make peace with it. You can debate the evils of it all you want, but the truth is that ubiquitous connectivity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s about time we as a society came to terms with that.

Schools are already considering teaching typing alongside handwriting in the early grades, and are slowly embracing social media as a viable medium for education. We all know kids less than 10 years old that are more active on Facebook and other social networking portals than many adults we know. Just the fact that many children own a laptop or PC before they enter middle school is mind-boggling to many. Let's not make the same mistake that the previous generation always makes; let's face the fact that the next generation will be more integrated with the digital tools that we created for them than we will ever be, and that the same thing will likely happen to the generation that in time our children will bring forth. Let's not be afraid of it, and instead be proud.

      

Image Credit: ibabuzz.com

When my son brings me the Xbox 360 controller, with the clear understanding that he can press the buttons and control a disconnected object 10 feet away, it’s perfectly normal now. When he won’t play with a fake laptop because he enjoys the tactile sensation of the keyboard and the LCD glow of a backlit monitor, the past decade has taught me that this is just social progression at its best. When I worry that too much time looking at a screen will hurt him somehow down the line, I just remind myself that the world is coming to a point where looking at a screen for hours on end is the norm, and not a deviant behavior that should be discouraged. However, I also learned that no digital tool is inherently good for a child unless there is a parental force behind it, encouraging and empowering, to help use those tools correctly; parents who “lose their children to the TV” have only themselves to blame.

Neowin wishes its awesome, devoted and constant readership a safe and happy New Year, with the hope that the new decade brings success in everything from parenting to being parented, embracing the digital world to creating it, and everything in between.     

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houlty said,
nice article.

just one thing though, as whilst a decade is technically just any ten years, we're surely already in "this" decade (2010-2019)??? the next decade would therefore be 2020-2029, no?


I believe you are correct sir.
I also think you may just be a great parent(@Tzvi).

houlty said,
nice article.

just one thing though, as whilst a decade is technically just any ten years, we're surely already in "this" decade (2010-2019)??? the next decade would therefore be 2020-2029, no?


I'm thinking thats what he meant really. 2010 is the beginning of the 2nd decade of the 21st century.

houlty said,
nice article.

just one thing though, as whilst a decade is technically just any ten years, we're surely already in "this" decade (2010-2019)??? the next decade would therefore be 2020-2029, no?

There was no year 0. The 21st century started on January 1st 2001, not 2000. Likewise January 1st 2011 is the start of the second decade.

tomjol said,

There was no year 0. The 21st century started on January 1st 2001, not 2000. Likewise January 1st 2011 is the start of the second decade.


That is why http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decade says otherwise:
Although any period of ten years is a decade,[2][3] a convenient and frequently referenced interval is based on the tens digit of the calendar year, as in using "1960s" to represent the decade from 1960 to 1969.[4][5]

So if we say "the sixties", you think 1970 is included?
The 00's should not include 2010

I hate intergenerational culture wars. I don't agree with either perspective in the extreme -- that the screen is bad or the screen is good -- and I think its good that we have an ongoing discussion about these issues.

A lot of kids have really bad habits about technology; I've worked with people younger than me and they reach for their phone every other minute to send text messages, it was a real pain for the manager to keep in line. Sometimes restricting the use of technology is about preventing kids from having those bad habits; thats why some employers and some teachers ask you to turn in your cell phones. The ideal would be for them to learn these good habits at a young age, and parents have to learn how to teach that to them.

Like it or not, restricting technology is a tool that parents have to use to set boundaries sometimes.

brianshapiro said,
I hate intergenerational culture wars. I don't agree with either perspective in the extreme -- that the screen is bad or the screen is good -- and I think its good that we have an ongoing discussion about these issues.

A lot of kids have really bad habits about technology; I've worked with people younger than me and they reach for their phone every other minute to send text messages, it was a real pain for the manager to keep in line. Sometimes restricting the use of technology is about preventing kids from having those bad habits; thats why some employers and some teachers ask you to turn in your cell phones. The ideal would be for them to learn these good habits at a young age, and parents have to learn how to teach that to them.

Like it or not, restricting technology is a tool that parents have to use to set boundaries sometimes.

As a people manager I have had to deal with young people and their phones too. I ended up deciding that you can't ask the 'kids' to turn off their iPhones, to me this feels wrong, almost inhumane, I love my connectedness too and I would hate my manager to say no smartphone during work hours.

What I now do is manage the individual regarding outcomes including efficiency, attention to detail/accuracy, attitude, behaviours and more. If they look at their phone all day and produce crap results then I manage this and if it does not work out then they are gone for not meeting expectations.

To me this is the best way to manage this.

derekaw said,

As a people manager I have had to deal with young people and their phones too. I ended up deciding that you can't ask the 'kids' to turn off their iPhones, to me this feels wrong, almost inhumane, I love my connectedness too and I would hate my manager to say no smartphone during work hours.

What I now do is manage the individual regarding outcomes including efficiency, attention to detail/accuracy, attitude, behaviours and more. If they look at their phone all day and produce crap results then I manage this and if it does not work out then they are gone for not meeting expectations.

To me this is the best way to manage this.

Where I was working they had to deal with customer service, so unless we had real down time, any use of the phone was a distraction. The manager didn't take the phones away from them or force them to turn them off, and it proved a pain because it was really difficult to find new employees at the time if someone wasn't doing their job well.

But my point is more that one of the jobs of parents is to help them have good habits in life, and that getting kids used to not using cell phones or not watching TV might make it easier for them to put them down. I don't agree with the POV that physical activity (playing outside) is better than sitting inside and playing games -- I don't think you become unhealthy unless you have a lot of other bad habits as well -- but at least separating kids from their screens will teach them how to exist without them. Its the same reason I think parents should expect their kids to wait before they have sex. They need to learn to be able to live without it.

brianshapiro said,
I hate intergenerational culture wars. I don't agree with either perspective in the extreme -- that the screen is bad or the screen is good -- and I think its good that we have an ongoing discussion about these issues.

A lot of kids have really bad habits about technology; I've worked with people younger than me and they reach for their phone every other minute to send text messages, it was a real pain for the manager to keep in line. Sometimes restricting the use of technology is about preventing kids from having those bad habits; thats why some employers and some teachers ask you to turn in your cell phones. The ideal would be for them to learn these good habits at a young age, and parents have to learn how to teach that to them.

Like it or not, restricting technology is a tool that parents have to use to set boundaries sometimes.

But isn't that like restricting how many sweets they eat and making them do their homework and go to bed at decent times?

Good parents will just cope with it and manage it well, while bad parents will continue to let their children down.

Great article, I agree 100%. My 4 year old plays many games on our PS3, can watch his favorite movies by navigating ALL of the menus (We use PlayOn with MyMedia Sharing so its nested in about 8 folders) or listen to his music easily. He knows which buttons on the remote change it to nick tv (we have 4 favorite buttons, each with 4 preset channels). Our one year old is just starting this trend bringing me the PS3 remote or a controller and asking for a movie so this is where our childeren are going. Embrace it and wait to see what is next.

Tarrant64 said,

Well I do...so now what?


One person that does, one person that doesnt.

Im not sure what you ment as this is quite obvious.

Fantastic article, was a great read!

One concern I'd have (and I have no idea how valid it is) would be what effect would repeated early exposure to a screen do to the development of a child's eyes? Is it damaging, or perhaps does it even strengthen them as its they adapt and grow to what they are exposed to at young ages? I'm genuinely not sure it may even have absolutely no effect, anyone have any more info on this?

Again, great article.

Nice article.

I spent last night with family and we had three little ones (aged 7, 5 and 2) using the xBox and Kinect (along with the adults of course ).

It's amazing to think how these children will grow up with technology being such a part of their lives as TVs and cars were for us older ones. I hope that they don't take it for granted and continue to push forward with innovation.

Not only that but the latest technology still amazes me in what it can do - and these children will look back on it in 15 or 20 years in the same way I look back at VCRs and my old school GameBoy.

"Then I read an article that Time magazine published in 2009. It said, shockingly, that there have really only been two proper scientific studies published that investigate the effects of television and infants over time."

I wish I still had an EBSCO or LexisNexis account, I can guarantee you there's a lot more than two studies done on the effects of TV on cognitive development on infants over time.

I am going to be genuinely jealous of the next generation. This summer I did some voluntary work at a nursery, some of the older children (around three years old could use a computer surprisingly well. When I was at nursery we had wooden blocks and toy cars with bent axles not computers with ganes on them.

My Nephew completes games on the Wii and XBOX before I can even workout how to control the characters properly, and he gives me pointers along the way. He's 8 now, but he has been this way since he was 4 or 5. When I was his age I'd be out playing the in the park, getting some fresh air and my parents would tell me to get off the NES. These days it's more acceptable to let a child play on consoles and computers, but that can mostly be attributed to the game makers having more of a morale obligation to provide entertaining yet still educational media.

+1 for great article.

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