President Barack Obama made a simple request Wednesday to young people spending eight hours a day looking at their screens: Please look up. In announcing the "Connect Home" initiative to provide Internet access to low-income communities, Obama shared some advice in an aside, suggesting that America's teenagers may be a bit ... too connected.
"Now, that doesn’t mean I want folks on the Internet all the time," he said. "I always tell young people when I meet them, sometimes they just have the phone up, I’m standing right in front of them -- and I got to tell them, young man, put down that phone. Shake the hand of your president. Then after you shake my hand and look me in the eye, and told me your name, then you can maybe go back to taking pictures."
Obama also let fellow parents know that he and Michelle Obama have set a boundary for the use of mobile devices at the dinner table.
"So there’s nothing wrong with every once in a while putting the technology aside and actually having a conversation," he said.
"This is something I talk to Malia and Sasha about. We don’t let those phones at the dinner -- but that’s a whole other story."
The Obamas have talked before about the boundaries they set for their children's screen time. In a 2012 interview with the Stir, the first lady shared the strict rules they follow and how she's involved in monitoring virtual study groups.
The girls have limited television and screen time -- none during the week unless it’s school-related, because now kids are doing these -- they video chat study groups. And when they’re doing that, I always go in their room to make sure they’re actually talking about school ... Kids, instead of how we used to call on the phone and talk about homework, they get on the computer now and chat. So I don’t want to interfere with that, so I monitor with the teacher to make sure that the kids who were studying together are actually -- that then they’re studying in a way that’s helpful.
It's good to know that on this count, the Obamas are setting an example that's worth considering as we all look for the right way to integrate technology into our lives.
But it's unclear whether the chief executive who famously fought to bring a BlackBerry into the White House also respects the same boundary. After all, parents need to model screen sense themselves: Kids tend to use screens as we do, not as we say.