When the headlines keep telling us we are “slaves to technology” or “smartphones are putting our children in danger”, the author of The Art of Screen Time is unique in reminding us there is another way to look at how we use our devices. Anya Kamenetz is talking about the joy of screen time and how she is making personal choices to include technology in her home, while reaping the benefits.
You can see the benefits of tech everywhere
When it comes to being aware of the tech scares we read about everyday, Kamenetz has her finger on the pulse. She has been reporting and writing about education and technology innovation for the past decade, but her take is not a cynical one.
“In the classroom setting, when we teach about kids and learners, we talk about them discovering, growing, creating and expressing themselves,” said Kamenetz. “And there are a lot of people who are very optimistic about the role of tech in those things.”
And it’s no surprise that for someone who uses tech for her career and her delight, Kamenetz does not bow down to the heavy criticism.
“We all use technology, we use it every day, we’re not being forced to use it. We’re using it because it’s bringing benefits into our lives, presumably, even though we do complain sometimes.”
But what about for kids?
Despite loving technology, once she started raising her oldest daughter, Kamenetz knew she didn’t have all the answers. Especially true when it comes to introducing tech to a younger user. The only consistent guideline she found amongst academics was, “don’t let your baby have screen time until age 2.” But the question remains, what next?
“We’re only 10 years into the smartphone and tablet era, more or less, and we don’t have all the research that we’d like to have. And so parents are taking shots in the dark.”
That’s where her book, The Art of Screen Time, was born: a parent’s attempt to make sense of the tech and research chaos that is flying at us at warp speed.
And isn’t that what we all are seeking as we stumble through the advice, statistics and personal experiences that stem from our family device use?
To that, Kamenetz brings hope, “I think pediatricians realize that they need a lot more complexity and nuance [in their instruction] to capture the reality that parents are living in every day.”
Model good tech behavior
“It’s a really simple shift in perspective to say that if technology has a purpose in our lives as adults, that we want to share those purposes with our kids, because that way we’re going to model the most useful applications of tech,” said Kamenetz.
But this mom of two doesn’t stop at just “useful”, she includes consuming entertainment, pop and high culture, basically anything you love that is worth creating, discovering and connecting with others on your screen.
“You don’t have to be a tech whiz to share the joy of screen time with your kid,” Kamenetz reminds us. “Whatever it is that you’re enthusiastic about, whether that is a Katy Perry music video or making a digital greeting card for Grandma, or just learning about something that you’re both generally interested in, that’s where it’s going to be positive for your kid.”
Anyone could argue that they should be on their devices at all times of the day, as long as they are enthusiastic, so where do we set the guidelines? Kamenetz doesn’t recommend this to everyone, but when you’re interviewing the expert, you have to ask what screen time rules she has set for herself.
“While I was researching the book, I made two decisions, one was to turn off notifications.”
Kamenetz says she keeps her phone on silent, so she doesn’t check the information coming in with every ding and vibrate, but instead all at once. And at specific times, that she has chosen.
“The second is leaving the phone outside the bedroom at night. That’s been really big for us, in terms of sleeping better and also not checking it first thing in the morning.”
Does she always model perfect tech behavior? Kamenetz is quick to admit, no.
“I feel like I am constantly watching and course correcting with my kids,” admitting she has to, “because I did have a second child during the course of researching and writing this book.”
Start them while they’re young
That’s probably the last advice you would hear from your pediatrician, but Kamenetz says it’s hard to avoid, so start the conversation and education around tech at a young age. She realistically described their own family tech use as “early imprinting”.
“With my younger daughter, it’s very clear, because she is very attracted to my phone. She has obviously learned by watching us that our phones are good things to have. And so she grabs them and wants to play with them. Same thing with the iPad… She literally will just play with the iPad as an object, which we don’t turn on videos for her, but she’ll kind of just tumble it around on the couch until we take it away from her.”
It’s obvious, but a hard truth to swallow for some parents. Our kids want the tech just as much as we do. And they know we can’t live without it.
That’s why Kamenetz suggests your education has to start a young age with kids, because they are going to be exposed to the devices, whether you like it or not. She describes in her book a technique modeled by her friend, where the parent explains why they are reaching for technology when their children are around.
“When you pick up your phone around your kids you should say what you’re doing. It’s pretty simple to say, ‘Hey, let’s check the weather today’ or ‘I’m going to text your friends’ mom about a playdate, because you asked me to do that’ or ‘you have a question about space and I don’t know the answer to it, so why don’t we look it up together.’”
She says with one quick phrase or explanation, you make yourself accountable and transparent, so your kid becomes part of the conversation, rather than being ignored during it.
Just enjoy – TOGETHER
In sitting down with Kamenetz or reading her book, the vibe is positive and hopeful, a breath of fresh air for parents who feel overwhelmed by everything that “lurks on the deep dark web”. She doesn’t pretend it will be easy to find joy, but she does say it is possible, even enjoyable.
“As long as media is the start of a positive conversation for your kid, then it is going to be a net benefit for that kid in the end.”