If I Were Queen, Kids and Screens

I started to have the desire to be Queen when smartphones invaded my children's elementary school.
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Father with daughter playing on digital tablet. Selective focus on the child's finger.
Father with daughter playing on digital tablet. Selective focus on the child's finger.

If I were Queen, I would make everyone repeat after me:

"Technology is addictive and allowing children to attempt to regulate themselves is akin to helping them regulate their use of cocaine or alcohol."

I started to have the desire to be Queen when smartphones invaded my children's elementary school. The first time I noticed it was when a third grader with divorced parents was discovered to be showing video porn to classmates and a few second graders during recess. When some horrified mothers found out and alerted the boy's mother, a nurse, she put the iPhone on the kitchen counter and smashed it with a hammer. In fifth grade, another boy took a picture of some girls doing cartwheels that showed their underwear and then regularly threatened to post it on his Facebook page. It was weeks until the girls' mothers, seeing their children visibly upset and suddenly not wanting to go to school anymore, got to the bottom of what was bothering them and had to get the principal and the mother involved before the boy deleted the pictures from his iPhone.

What's going on here? A Cambrian explosion in "smartphones" after the iPhone was introduced in 2007 combined with a killer deal by Apple in 2010 when the iPhone 4 was introduced and the once pricey earlier model was reduced to $49. The device was now either so cheap or their parents got an upgrade and just gave it to their kids as a hand-me-down. Here's what I saw: In 2007 about 70 percent of the fourth-grade students in my kids' elementary school had mostly non-smartphones (I like to call them "Bat Phones"-- only for emergencies) that they brought to school. By 2010 everything had changed. A majority of kids now have smartphones or Internet-connected devices that they carry around with them at all times.

We all do. This has led to everyone of every age being connected all the time, and the Internet has seeped into the crevasses of every waking minute of each day -- in between class, waiting for a ride, at a stoplight, recess, etc. Everyone's tweeting, Instagraming, YouTubeing, Facebooking, gaming, all the time. Ugh, this is boring. In fact, we have this we're-connected-all-the-time conversation so often that I'm just giving it a number. Let's call it Conversation 42B.

Okay, onto middle school where the problems get even more exciting. Young able-bodied boys, their enthusiasm seemingly intensified by the onset of puberty, will spend endless hours in front of computer without eating, drinking or going to the bathroom. It's so sad to see them with their eyes aglow and their lips white with dehydration while they sit side by side. Unless you unplug them, kids will not naturally play outside anymore almost ever. I had to start to asking my son's friends' parents to refrain from allowing Johnny to bring his laptop every time they came over lest they spend the entire night playing side by side in their violent, enthralling parallel universes where they play with and kill strangers. Of course, we hypocritical parents can't monitor everything because they're too sitting at our desks on our computers because "We have to work!"

Social networking is another jungle altogether. I know one 12-year-old who can see her friend's older brother's pictures of him rolling joints and get high on his Instagram feed. There has been a recent discussion in our middle school to discourage tween girls from posting "selfies" (pictures of themselves in various poses and outfits -- thank you, Kim Kardashian) because of how they monitor how many likes their iTouch or iPhone has received on Instagram like a diabetic checking their blood sugar.

Schools, IMHO, are equally as confused as parents. Kids are encouraged to bring computers to school, and schools will often boast to incoming parents that it has Wi-Fi and encourages the latest technology. (Oooh, Conversation 42B.) Many elementary school kids are being taught "keyboarding" in lieu of cursive. Handwriting and spelling (thanks to spell-check) are just not that important anymore. Thanks to in-class Wi-Fi, some middle school kids on laptops are really playing Minecraft during social studies and can press a single key on their desktop to make their class assignment appear when the teacher walks by. Every night when kids come home (hopefully after sports), they walk in the door and say, "I need to use the computer to check and do homework." I once heard a sixth grader innocently lament that she wished there were a Starbucks near the ocean so that she could write her thoughts while watching a sunset. Writing original thoughts or ideas on paper is often a completely foreign concept.

There is no doubt that technology as a tool has incredible uses such as learning. Learn to use a graphing program in math! Show what a planet in retrograde looks like on YouTube! In fact, YouTube has finally a created a comment-free channel with just educational videos, including Khan Academy and TED videos. Hooray! Should teachers be allowed to show these videos so that our children can benefit from great minds and ideas all over the world? Absolutely! But, blah blah blah Conversation 42B.

Back to me being Queen. If I were Queen, I would climb down a very tall mountain in an amazing outfit (flowing, probably YSL) and present the following commandments.

Commandment #1: All Children Shall Learn This Amazing Technology Called WRITING ON PAPER. Writing by hand should be elevated as a technological tool in its own right for its known benefits in mark-making, memory and left-brain/right-brain integration. (You may interrupt this article right now to read this piece about the importance of drawing and doing things by hand by Michael Graves.) On an airplane I recently sat next to a college student who admitted that he doesn't know how to write, that his penmanship is illegible and atrocious, and that he takes his class notes on his iPhone. (Imagine being a teacher sitting in front of a classroom where everyone is furiously typing on their phones.) Yet, he says that the only time he can prepare for the test is to write a version of his notes (which he can't read) so that it stays in his mind. Writing is uploading. Writing is beautiful. Writing is important. As an artist I make my living mark-making so I have a passion for the subject, but this is my Queendom and I get to decide. Enough said.

Commandment #2. All Kids Shall Receive a Limited Weekly Online AllowanceA 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most youth say they have no rules about how much time they can spend with TV, video games, or computers and that the average was 7 hours and 38 minutes a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). Make your kids agree to a diet of a certain number of hours a week that they will spend online. Adding up the hours will make parents more aware of how obnoxious the total is. When one is on a device, one is not playing basketball or running or getting any physical exercise. An extensive study of what activities and types of stimulation positively affect the brain, it was determined that no matter how stimulating the visual, sensual and tactile input, the way the brain "grows" and adds new cells is through physical exercise. Parents in my Queendom should want their kids' brains to grow.

Commandment #3. Every Child Needs to Receive Online Behavior Awareness Training (OBAT) and Pass a Test Before Downloading an App or Going OnlineLike a driver's test, the OBAT test will determine whether or not the user is prepared and will address all issues ranging from privacy (there is none) and cyber-bullying, email etiquette, textiquette, Instagramiquette, what information should not be given to apps or networks, etc. It will be emphasized that every text message, email, status update, Gchat is a public document and can be read by everyone and are never private EVER. Case studies should include for Tiger Woods-gate, Anthony Weiner-gate, kids-not-getting-into-college-because-of-stupid-pictures gate, etc. All passwords should be submitted to the parents for all devices and social networks so they can be accessed at anytime. If kids want privacy, then they should keep a journal or write a letter, which they will learn how to do thanks to Commandment #1.

Commandment #4. Every School Should Implement a One-Month-Long Technology Hiatus. For one month all schools will not require any online work, including the checking homework on calendars or to research or write online. Everything will be done offline in the course of everyday life, not just trips where you have to unplug them and take them to the mountains. Just because. Sigh. I just love being Queen.

Commandment #5. If They Must, Elementary and Middle School Kids Should Carry Bat Phones Only. Any kids who carry smartphones or devices should relinquish them at the front office for elementary and middle school (maybe high school, I'm not there yet). In addition to not wanting these devices near their growing reproductive organs and thin skulls (physiological effects of smart devices on children shall be addressed in future blog titled Conversation 42C), lunchtime and recess should be an Internet- and social-networking-free-zone, and kids who feel too socially awkward can find refuge in either a book or a musical instrument. Conversation 42B.

Commandment #6. No Screens in the Car Unless During Road Trips or at Night. When riding in a car, which we do too often in LA, there should be no devices if there is any opportunity to see views and far distances. Seeing distances is critical for brain development and listening to music together is bonding. Bitchy Bitchy Queen, I know. Commandment #7. No Laptops on Playdates. (See above rant, Paragraph 4)

Commandment #8. No Social Networking Until 13, No Facebook At All Until 16, Preferably 18.And only if they kids have passed the OBAT.

Commandment #9. No Screens Until Noon or "Wake and Bake" on the Weekends. I call it "Wake and Bake" -- kids sneaking in the kitchen to the communal computer to go online because their parents don't allow them to charge their devices in their rooms (that's not a commandment because that's just common sense). In fact, I'd rather have Saturday-morning cartoons over YouTube videos for breakfast any day. I don't consider a TV the same kind of screen. But you can better believe this queen has rules like no TV during the week (except for one or two great shows).

Commandment #10. Parents Are Allowed to Be Occasional Hypocrites and Still Enforce All the Commandments."We have to work!"

And then, after I handed them my ten commandments, I would shower my subjects with fragrant rose petals and burn a giant golden iPhone.


Other remotely related articles on the subject by Kimberly Brooks:Facebook And The Death of MysteryWhy Artists Shouldn't Have Blackberries

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