will soon release Screen Time, a program permitting parents to remotely monitor and limit the intervals children spend on their iPhones and specific apps. At first glance a useful tool for parenting, but one that poses dangers for child development and a camel’s head into the tent for a menacing virtual nanny.
Certainly, adults and children take smartphones into workplaces, classrooms and other places where social media, games and chatting distract from productivity, learning and cultivating relationships with those immediately present. However, just as we teach children to master other temptations — procrastinating about homework — and to exercise prudence in choosing friends, we need to help them establish limits and sensible habits for smartphone use.
That begins with adults setting a good example — no texting at the dinner table and when performing household tasks like cooking — but it also requires patient discussions with children about when their smartphones should be silenced or placed in a backpack.
Most of us are online continuously when we are not sleeping or participating in activities where smartphones are prohibited. Psychologists, through controlled experiments, have concluded the obvious — if those ring, beep or buzz and we are precluded from responding, anxiety and blood pressure rise, concentration lessens and mental acuity diminishes.
The same would have likely applied were adults and teenagers prohibited from answering ringing landlines or opening mail as it arrived, but we didn’t put quotas on phone calls and letters. Instead, we learned to master those impulses.
Now, we need to teach our children to do the same with smartphones. If we exercise self-control on their behalf—as helicopter parents too often do—then our children will less likely develop the executive skills to appropriately limit multitasking and balance priorities as adults.
Similarly, Screen Time could soon be supplemented by artificial intelligence that evaluates websites children are offered when they do searches and analyzes their email. That could help educators and parents ensure children are not subject to fake news, propaganda, offensive content and selections slanted to extreme points of view.
However, we all must become adept at sorting charlatans from decent people, evaluating claims and seeking competing opinions. Just as we teach the primary school child to put the phone away to focus on homework, we must equip adolescents to accomplish those more complex intellectual sorting tasks for themselves.
and rightly view parental spying through smartphone apps as an invasion of privacy. A child constantly monitored and guided by an artificial intelligence enabled techno-nanny may not be so smart or independent.
Parents cannot be around all the time—few can afford full-time nannies and teenagers would not tolerate them—so we help low-mileage adults develop discernment, tolerance and curiosity about those who disagree with us.
An app that replicated this parental guidance would be around all the time, the training wheels would never come off and the child, again, would go off to college even more vulnerable than they are now to radical, intolerant perspectives and sycophantic relationships with professors disaffected from the real world of non-tenured adults.
Psychologists suspect smartphones and computers are making us less smart. Relying on the web for more information reduces our capacity to memorize and often we are confused about what we know from memory and what we have seen on the web. And it lessens our ability to perform functions like use a research library, because we rely on Google’s search engine.
Such conclusions see the demands of intellectual work as too static and unchanging.
Many Victorian-era homes were built to plans kept by a chief carpenter in his head but then blueprints came along. Good builders were freed for other pursuits—such as putting up more homes simultaneously and better managing workers and materials.
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