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Your Father’s Famous Four Questions (Part 4)

In a recent blog post, I shared four questions that parents typically ask their children before letting them out the door.  These questions came to me from Lori Getz, who writes about them in detail in the Parent Resource Center of her website.  The questions are as follows:

  1. What are wearing?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. Who are you going with?
  4. What time will you be home?

Question 4: What time will you be home?

With the Internet, this equates to “how much time are you spending online?”  I also tack on to this: “When are you going to switch off and give your mind and eyes a rest?”  Recent studies done by the Kaiser Family Foundation tell us that children and teens are spending hours and hours each day looking at screens.  The unspoken truth that goes along with this is that they are, for the most part, sitting still and not getting much-needed exercise during that “screen time.”  They’re also constantly connected by cell phone. 

Girl with laptopMany young people sleep with their cell phones beside the bed or even under their pillows.  They stay up late, communicating with friends via text messages, and then their sleep is interrupted by messages throughout the night.  Even as we have been learning that young people – especially teens – need MORE than the commonly-cited “eight hours” each night, they are, in fact, getting much less sleep than that.  There is a movement to have school start times pushed back to 8:00 or 8:30 so that teens can get more sleep.  Fat chance of that happening if they’re still texting until all hours.  Does it really take much parenting muscle to take the cell phone into your own bedroom at night to help your child get a decent night’s sleep? 

Lori Getz writes about the myth of multitasking by young people today.  We hear them called Digital Natives who are multitasking masters.  In truth, all they are is shallow thinkers with short attention spans.  Yes, they can do a lot of quick, unimportant tasks in short succession.  But can they calm down, sit still, and just focus on doing one thing really well and to a fine level of detail?  With correctly spelled words?  (And without texting a friend “im bored, wat u dn?” in the middle of it?)

This isn’t just about a temporary inconvenience of tired kids in classes or young people retreating into a culture of über-connection.  There are long-term physical and psychological impacts to increased time spent online.  A recent article on MSNBC sheds light on research being done in Britain regarding the psychological effects of too much “screen time.”  One scary aspect is the finding that physical activity and exercise does not compensate for the negative psychological effects of overexposure to television, computers, and other electronic media.

cell phone and handsThere is no question that our children’s futures are full of computers and other devices.  I teach technology, so I am not advocating we remove these devices from kids’ lives; on the contrary, I push for their integration as helpful tools.  But we need to find a way to teach kids how to balance their lives with non-screen time and budget the hours in their day so that they have a break from electronics.

When the power goes out or batteries go dead, will our children know how to communicate, relate, cooperate, and collaborate?  Will they be able to entertain themselves?  Or will they feel isolated in ways that really frighten them?  Not only must we stop allowing devices to be our babysitters and homework saviors, we must consciously prepare young people for a life that will expect more from them than just super-speedy texting.

Image of girl with laptop used with permission of Flickr user P i c t u r e Y o u t h, © all rights reserved.

Image of cell phone and hands from Flickr user sleepyneko, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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