Glass Half Full: Talk with children about digital dangers
April 16, 2014
Lake Tahoe School offers a Parent Speaker Series that focuses on concerns common to all parents and that is open to the public.
Two weeks ago, the fortunate audience had the privilege and opportunity to hear Cheryl Erwin again. Dr. Erwin is a renowned therapist and author to whom many of us listen on NPR first thing in the mornings a few times a week.
She has always impressed me by her straight talk and balanced approach. Cheryl knows kids — and parents.
One of Cheryl's greatest strengths is her ability to address issues in a manner that is a pertinent to the parents of three-year olds as it is to those of teenagers. Her recent talk was no exception.
The discussion centered on digital technology and the impact it has on our lives and those of our children. As she noted, like money, technology is neither good nor bad, intrinsically. What we do with it is what makes a difference.
Like any good speaker, Cheryl began her talk with some facts that, even as an educator with some familiarity with the subject, I find breathtaking:
• Most children spend more time watching TV (or screens) than reading.
• 30% of children 0-2 years of age, 44% of those 2-4, and 49% of those 5-8 have TVs in their bedrooms.
• There is a direct link between a child's test scores and having TV in the bedroom, and the link is a negative one.
• 40% of children 14 and older have experienced sexting (sending or receiving nude photos via text message).
• The brains of children under 6 are wired to make connections. If children spend time interacting and talking with other people, those are the connections they make. If the connections are made with screens, those will be permanent.
• Empathy and school readiness are linked to the number of utterances a child hears in the course of every day. Digital games may be fun and have some educational value, but they in no way replace a human voice.
• Nationally, there has been an explosion of porn use among middle school girls, who can much too easily confuse it with love.
• Research shows that the best way to avoid behavior problems with children is sharing dinner on a regular basis.
Cheryl talked a lot about the choices we make as parents. Most of us recognize that handing a child some sort of screen is often the path of least resistance. Again, not always bad.
However, one of her most salient points is that we have no idea what are the long-term effects of digital technology. We are experimenting with our children, literally.
Our children frequently use technology in ways and at times of which we are oblivious. We need to be cognizant of our own use of digital technology, especially in the presence of children.
Talk with them frequently about the dangers. Stay abreast of what's happening in the world in that field.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.