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Two Notable Reads: Children and Tech and the Illusions of Photography

How much should kids be online? And is taking pictures taking us out of real life?
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For this week’s reading on all things technology, I came across a couple over the weekend that were incredibly interesting and insightful. For starters, there’s a new article out now via the Institute for Family Studies on toddlers and technology use. In summation of a study they conducted, Jane Shawcroft writes,

1. Sometimes it takes a while to reap the rewards of guiding children’s technology use.

Children like TV. They like tablets. They are usually upset when you say “no” and don’t let them watch another episode of Paw Patrol or play games on your smartphone. It can be hard in the moment. But remember that research suggests there are some significant payouts down the road. Standing your ground on media rules might be difficult when they are 2½. But it will all be worth it when, your kids are not as attached to media when they get older, while you will have developed a habit of setting healthy limits.

2. Rules about TV do matter.

It can be tempting to look at our findings and think “why am I fighting with my child about TV when it doesn’t matter?” But TV rules do matter. It’s just that most parents have rules about when, how much, or what kind of TV their children can watch. This means that in our analyses, there is a good chance “we didn’t find anything” because most parents are already doing something — and that something is helping children. So, when your toddler gets upset when it is time to turn off My Little Pony, remember, this does matter and will benefit your child long-term. 

3. Don’t forget tablets.

Our analyses suggested that the children whose parents did not let them use tablets at 2½ had a better relationship with technology at 4½ compared to the children whose parents didn’t have any rules about tablets. 

There is some nuance here that is important to keep in mind. First, remember that most parents did not have any rules about tablet use, even though many children use tablets on a regular basis. This is likely because tablets are so easy to overlook. We reach for them when our child is crying in the car or at the grocery store, or as a quick distraction when we need just five minutes to get dressed. In short, tablet use is often an unplanned part of our children’s technological diets. 

-Jane Shawcroft, Toddlers and Tablets: Being Purposeful About Your Child’s Technology Use | Institute for Family Studies (ifstudies.org)

The article is a helpful resource for parents who may be wondering how best to raise their young children in a culture so saturated with digital media.

Secondly, Liel Leibovitz, in his monthly column for First Things, writes how our cultural obsession with photography is actually undermining our ability to live in the present moment. The whole article is well worth the read, but here’s just a section,

Do we truly exist when we behold life through the lens of a smartphone? It’s no idle philosophical parlor game: Enjoying a local pool earlier this summer, I saw two young women dipping their feet in the water, their hands firmly grasping their phones. They were snapping shots — of themselves and of each other — for about an hour before they got up, dried off, and left. It was evident from their animated conversation that their goal on that gorgeous July afternoon wasn’t to soak up some sun, or to exercise, or even to enjoy each other’s company — it was to generate an album of appealing photographs, which they understood as the primary means of communicating their truest essence to their friends. Posito ergo sum — I place myself in front of a camera, therefore I am.

-Liel Leibovitz, Photo Negative by Liel Leibovitz | Articles | First Things

We live in the age of the image, there’s no question. A big problem is that images can be easily fabricated and misleading. There’s a reason teenagers’ mental health has been on the decline over the last decade, particularly among teen girls. Idealized images can be fodder for the social comparison game.


Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is a prolific fiction writer and has written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is a contributing writer and editor for Mind Matters.

Two Notable Reads: Children and Tech and the Illusions of Photography