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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Technology Debate: Helpful or Hurtful?

Intent, context may be key

by Noah Chen

Depictions of technology range from the damning—from Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein and Terminator’s Skynet—to playing the role of humankind’s savior, in movies such as Interstellar, and from public figures like Elon Musk.

And while there are many pros to a technologically advanced world, the truth is that children may be using technology a bit too much.

“Most kids are spending well more than the appropriate amount of time with screens,” says Cori Cross, pediatrician, and an 18-year member of the American Association of Pediatrics, for which she is currently a spokesperson.

A recent report by Nielsen media research found that children aged 2 to 11 were spending on average a little more than four hours a day in front of screens, while 12- to 18-year olds were spending just a few minutes less than that.

Experts used to calculate that children were using less than two hours a day of screen time, Cross says. But then experts realized that media and screens had become ubiquitous in school as educational tools and mobile smart phones were becoming “a real game changer.”

Cross says parents should push their children to “Interface with the other things that are necessary to live a balanced life, and if you do that, you will have less time for screens.”

“We want to make sure kids are getting an hour of exercise a day,” Cross says. “Lots of kids find all this time for screen use, but they really don’t find time for exercise, for free play, for outdoor play.”

“What we’re really advocating for is more down time, more allowing children to be bored and have creative, imaginative play.”

While it might be tempting to issue a stricter message, Cross explains “It’s hard to say cut down the screens.”

There is, however, an educational institution that is seeking to do just that. Waldorf schools are a system of private schools originally founded on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. Along with a diverse and eclectic curriculum of classes, many which are infused with artistic elements like drawing or dance, Waldorf schools are known for their strict limitations on student media use not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom and at home. Parents are asked to not allow or severely limit students access to video games or television or computers.

Judy Forrester spent 13 years teaching Handwork—that is to say, knitting, crocheting, and sewing—at two different Waldorf schools, and explains their philosophy of media use.

“It’s not ‘never’ in Waldorf, it’s ‘when,’” Forrester says.

Waldorf philosophy believes media can often be overwhelming or become the focus of a developing child’s life.

“Always remember that it’s a tool,” says Forrester. “Show your child good examples of using it as a tool, and not something that you can get sucked into.”

Of course, media is often also used as entertainment, and here Forrester recommends a different approach with children.

“My daughter is in fifth grade. These girls are coming up in puberty, and they’re singing songs at recess that they’re hearing in the car. There are some very sexually explicit lyrics here. All the girls are singing the Havana song,” she said, referencing Camila Cabello’s recent hit.

"‘It’s a cool song,’” she recounted saying to her daughter. “‘Let’s look up the lyrics and really talk about it.’ This became an opportunity for me to go deeper into sex education with my daughter.”

While this could seem a daunting task, Forrester says the result is worth it.

“To have that awareness, that gives her power as a young girl, knowing the strength and the meaning of the words, and not just feeling like a lost innocent.”

Forrester and Cross both agree that providing context to the media a child views is important, and that moderation is the key.

Waldorf alum Myers Pierce, who had been enrolled in the Atlanta branch from kindergarten through eighth grade, was not allowed to have a videogame console, or go online. He says he was allowed to watch two to three movies a month. But he reluctantly agrees with his former knitting teacher.

“It aggravated me at the time,” he says. “But I don’t think my parents were wrong growing up.”

While he was interested in media and pushed his parents for more access to videogames and a cellphone in grade school, the diversity of Waldorf’s classes helped push his interests in other fields.

He agreed with the statement that his media limitations had a positive impact on his development. However, Pierce doesn’t simply believe that limiting media access is the best response.

“I think that kids have the wrong access,” says Pierce. “There’s way more focus on your online appearance and persona.”

“Starting that at a very early age, before people are even necessarily self-aware, I don’t think that’s a healthy thing.”

“If your kid wants to be on the internet, engage them in that activity. If they want to play video games, engage them in that,” said Pierce. “Make sure they’re connecting with the actual message of what’s going on.”

In the end, Pierce, Forrester and Cross all agreed that it comes down to the desires and character of each individual child as to how much media access is just right. And while it may be tough imposing limits on a child dead set on spending all day on playing a video game, people like Pierce demonstrate they’ll be thankful. Eventually.


Image: Linden Tree Photography

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