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Screen Time Has an Upside

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Raise your hand if you have had to wrestle a screen out of your child’s hands. Of course you have. And so have I. On the other hand, I have quietly thanked Steve Jobs for saving my sanity on a long flight or an eight-hour drive.

Feeling conflicted about our children’s attachment to something we didn’t grow up with is nothing new. Parents in the 1970s worried that Sesame Street would destroy our attention span. Parents in the 1950s thought that rock n’ roll would lead to the death of civilisation.

This sense of conflict is amplified by the messages we receive from the media. In October, 2018, the New York Times published a piece asserting that many Silicon Valley parents ensure that their children’s lives are devoid of screens. Entirely. Conversely, philosophy professor and researcher Jordan Shapiro tells us in The New Childhood that we should embrace some online time.

As an educator and co-founder of an innovation consultancy, I would like to share five reasons to be optimistic about our children’s digital lives:

  1. Online games provide opportunities to collaborate in remote teams. This summer, I watched my 12-year-old negotiate time differences to set up a battle royale, or something like that with his friends. He was in a cabin in the mountains in the US. One boy was in Iceland, another was in the UK, and yet another was in Dubai.
  2. Children can become creators, not just consumers of content. I do not really want my children’s career aspirations to include ‘gaming YouTuber’, but there is something to be said about creating content for an audience.
  3. Children are equipped to learn in real time. Yes, we need to support our children in assessing the value of a source, but children can learn anything from how to make brownies to the capital of South Dakota through a simple search. The barrier between wanting to learn something and being able to learn something has been greatly reduced.
  4. Children can actually become more effective learners. New Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools like Embibe can serve as a learning coach for CBSE students. Similarly, Gradewise can help students track their GCSE, iGCSE, or Cambridge curriculum progress from the first day of secondary school to the day of their exam.
  5. Parents and teachers can use digital tools to better support their children’s learning. The AI-based Lexpore allows teachers to engage in rapid, accurate reading assessments to know how best to support readers and when to refer students for special interventions. Likewise, Kinteract can be used as a digital portfolio across a student’s learning journey, allowing them to easily share their work with parents, and tagged to curriculum outcomes.

Of course, as Shapiro reminds us, it’s all about balance. We need to ensure that our children’s online time is tempered with time playing sports, dreaming up imaginary games, doing chores, and even hanging out with friends in Starbucks.

Christine Nasserghodsi is the co-founder of Mirai, a strategic innovation consultancy, and she is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. Christine is also mum to two lively boys, two rescues dogs, and two stray cats.