It's that time of year - when new goals meet reality! We all have good intentions, whether that be to eat healthier, exercise more, or spend more time with those we love. For many, new goals also include limiting, reducing, or even eliminating screen time - the time we spend using screen-based technology (e.g., smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions, etc.).
Media content and technology use is a complex subject. It doesn't come in shades of black and white with clear and distinct lines and choices. Research doesn't show that it's definitively good or bad for us. Instead its murky and messy. It feels personal and we have strong feelings on the subject as we are often guided by our own experiences and perceptions. There are so many pieces to the puzzle that it's hard to find a single source that provides objective and comprehensive information to guide our choices.
So, what are we to do as parents, teachers, educators, professionals, caregivers? The answer is more complex than a single blog post. It's an evolving and ongoing conversation about how technology and media content may help or hinder individual and collective goals, needs, and wants. Research and professional recommendations provide information and guidance. But as a doctoral student, speech-language pathologist, and media researcher, the more I dig into all of this, I keep coming to the same conclusion... in order to make meaningful and informed technology decisions, the answer is not one size fits all, but unique to you, your family, your classroom, etc.
First, consider the big picture... we are in new territory.
No one, and I mean no one, knows the absolutely best answer to this million-dollar question. We all have insights and recommendations that contribute to these decisions. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media (2012), "the change of pace [associated with apps and screen-based technologies] is so rapid that society is experiencing a disruption almost as significant as when there was a shift from oral language to print literacy, and again when the printing press expanded access to books and the printed word."
No generation before us has had to confront
the challenges associated with advanced, touch screen technologies.
Given the magnitude of the shift to digital media, it's no wonder that there aren't "easy" answers when it comes to parenting and teaching in the digital age. As a parent, teacher, SLP, etc., we can only make the best decisions for our kids, our students, ourselves, and our families with the information that we have at the time. Decisions that aren't cookie cutter, but rather evolve over time as new information and technologies become available, our needs and interests change, and our kids mature and grow up.
Take a deep breath and know that you are doing the best that you can, with what we know about technology use as we move deeper into the digital frontier.
So, where do we go from here? I don't have all the answers, but I think we start with balance. Balance is a constant goal in my life, one that I feel I am always trying to manage. The balance between home vs. work, a restful afternoon vs. an invigorating workout, or chocolate vs. green vegetables. In today's world, it's hard to work, learn, and have fun without using technology in some form or another. Even though we don't have all the answers, we can start with balance - accessing the positive effects associated with technology and media use while working to reduce or eliminate the negative ones.
While technology is an essential tool in various aspects of my daily life, I also need time away from it. I can become glued to my computer when a major paper is due for the better part of a day or even a week. But I also can spend a day without turning my computer on, instead reading a book, walking on the beach, or exploring my community. Too much of anything can result in harm. If I spend the day immersed in my device, I can isolate myself and miss out on social interactions with those around me. If I spend the day outside at the beach, I run the risk of getting sun burned and dehydrated. We need balance. We need limits on how much time we spend with technology, but we also need time to show a new generation how to safely navigate these digital waters. We as parents, educators, and professionals have the opportunity to control how technology is integrated into our lives. We have a say, we get to decide. It all comes back to balance, helping us enjoy the positive effects while minimizing the negative ones.
It's like Goldilocks, the little girl in the fairy tale who broke into the house of family of bears. With every decision, which chair to sit in, which bowl of porridge to eat, and what bed to sleep in, there were both positive and negative consequences. If the chair was too small, it could break. If she ate the bowl of porridge that was too big, she would feel sick. She had to constantly evaluate the situation in order to make the choice right for her, striking balance between things that were seemingly too big or too small. The same is true when it comes to decisions about technology and media use. We navigate the digital frontier by making choices, re-evaluating and revising our decisions as the situation changes, and constantly communicating with those involved - all in an attempt to make the best decision possible and strike balance.
This is a journey. While it may at some points seem uncertain or even scary, we are all in this together. We can share and learn from our successes and our failures without judgement. We all have a voice that is part of a bigger and more complex discussion as we try to figure out the answers. But like so many other situations in life, there is no one right answer.
So, take a deep breath and give yourself credit for being interested and engaged, for wading through this messy and complicated subject. We are all human and tackling the uncertainty of the unknown is not new. But we've learned from our past and carry those lessons with us as we learn how to navigate the digital frontier. Welcome to the journey and the on-going conversation. I look forward to seeing you out on the frontier as we walk this road together.
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