I'm two days into reading a new book, Digital Minimalism, as I take a break at my daughter's chess tournament to look around. Of the roughly 130 people I'm counting I further count 109 of them looking at a screen. Be it a phone, laptop, tablet, or ebook- screens are abound.
I admit I too am on a screen. I'm reading my book on a Kindle after all. But taking in what I'm seeing, I almost consider myself lucky compared to, say, my children. I didn't get my first smartphone until I was 33. My oldest daughter didn't have a phone until she was 11 (a mistake on our part, hindsight is a bitch), however, she saved her money for an iPad Mini- which was just as bad. The other four children have had a device in their hands for the bulk of their lives.
They don't know anything else. A screen is how they interact with friends, do school work, learn new non-school things, and (unfortunately) how they interact with us as parents at times.
I don't want to call my kids dumb (most kids are "dumb" now if you ask a parent the correct way), but the way they're taught and the way their brains process data have changed over the years. I don't think I was any smarter (well, I know I wasn't), however, the requirement for one to remember facts and data have changed. Children no longer have to do this. In fact, I've caught my kids asking Alex via our Amazon Echo a geography question that could have easily been answered by looking at the globe. Coincidentally, there is a globe literally sitting right next to our Echo. (And yes, it is I who's guilty of buying the Echo in the first place.)
So the question is this: who do we, as society, blame for this new way of information flow? I presented this question to my 10 year-old daughter in between her chess games. She made a good point by answering with "I think everybody. But we usually ask before using our Kindle." She answered this without looking up from her Kindle while playing Prodigy, a web-based learning game.
I indeed blame myself for the rise in screen use. And though Lena, my unwitting subject, didn't try to blame me, she did. After all, she asks my permission to use her electronic devices, to which I say yes more than no. I partially blame the device and app makers for their engineering of the end product, it's their business to do so, but I put more blame on myself.
On the flipside of this parental dilemma are a minority of kids who don't use computers or social media either at all or in a very limited capacity. As a homeschool dad I've actually got see this with students at co-ops or more often while attending chess and quiz-bowl tournaments. My point of bringing this up is that from a kid to kid perspective (me watching from the outside) they seem to sense those who they can relate to, digitally speaking. Does not knowing what the latest trending video on YouTube is make a difference in the land of kids? You bet it does. Especially if you're trying to make friends within the under-17 crowd (a father's observation).
In the end there is, without a doubt, the need to delicately balance the digital needs and wants of our children. The number one thing to remember as a parent is this: there is nobody else watching out for the best interest of your children other than you. Don't be fooled by Google or Facebook making "kid-friendly" products. The addiction game starts with you letting your guard down, and adding a "kid" moniker to a product doesn't it better for our kin (I'm looking at you YouTube Kids).