Children are tech addicts – and schools are the pushers
by Eliane Glaser, Opinion, The Guardian, 26 January 2018
When Silicon Valley bosses send their children to screen-free schools, why do we believe the claims of the ‘ed tech’ industry?
As a culture, we are finally waking up to the dark side of new technology. “The internet is broken”, declares the current issue of Wired, the tech insiders’ bible. Last month Rick Webb, an early digital investor, posted a blog titled “My internet mea culpa”. “I was wrong,” he wrote. “We all were.” He called on the architects of the web to admit that new technology had brought more harm than good.
Yet while geeks, the public and politicians – including Theresa May – grow disenchanted, schools, and those responsible for the national curriculum, seem stuck in an earlier wide-eyed era. My instinct tells me that this innocence is perverse. As a friend memorably described it, when he gave his three-year-old his phone to play with, it was as if a worm had found its way into her head.
I flinch internally when my five-year-old tells me she plays computer games in what primary schools call “golden time” rather than enjoying some other more wholesome reward; and when my eight-year-old says that he’s learned to send an email when I sent my first email aged 20, and email has since taken over my life and that of every other adult I know.
Our kids don’t use computers at home. They watch a bit of television, but we don’t own a tablet. Their school is by no means evangelical about technology, but I nonetheless feel like it is playing the role of pusher, and I’m watching my children get hooked. When they went suspiciously quiet the other day, I found them under the kitchen table trying to explore my phone. Unfortunately for them, it’s a brick.
I’m wary of sounding sanctimonious, and corroding much-needed solidarity between busy parents with different views on screen use. But when I see an infant jabbing and swiping, I can’t help experiencing what the writer James Bridle calls in a disturbing recent essay a “Luddite twinge”; and the research suggests I should trust it.
Earlier this month the children’s commissioner for England warned that children starting secondary school were facing a social media “cliff edge” as they entered an online world of cyber-bullying and pornography. According to Public Health England, extended screen use correlates to emotional distress, anxiety and depression in children. The American College of Paediatricians associates it with sleep problems, obesity, increased aggression and low self-esteem.