Bruce the Blog

Kids and Their Screens

“Kids, I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today.

“Kids, who can understand anything they say…?

“Why can’t they be like we were?

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“Perfect in every way,

“What’s the matter with kids today?”

When Lee Adams, who lives in northern Westchester, penned those laugh-worthy lyrics for the Broadway musical “Bye Bye Birdie,” he was pumping irony.

It’s a rite of passage for older folks (a demographic that includes yours truly) to kid themselves into thinking everything they did as kids was somehow more authentic and more preferable to how today’s youth behave or are reared. You may have seen those wistful Facebook memes that pine for yesterday.

Far from endorsing that generational narcissism, Mr. Adams’s clever words justifiably poke fun at it. “Perfect in every way.” Hardly har har!

But when I hear friends of mine, among others, fondly recall the bygone days of our youth, while also bemoaning today’s generation of young people, their irony, sadly, is nowhere to be found. They actually believe their own PR.

Case in point is how vigilant young parents understandably harbor concerns about their kids spending too much time with faces fixed on a screen. Sure, formative minds and bodies need physical exercise. They need to spend quality time in the physical presence of other humans, they need to develop critical thinking skills. They need all of that. But it doesn’t mean their screen time is for naught.

Before being too quick to criticize how attached kids are to their digital devices, their elders shouldn’t too quickly forget, like it or not, that they watch every move we make. Take social media, where the maturity of an adult’s post can be less than flattering to that same adult’s chronological age (I’m no innocent, either).

If you don’t have young kids, you might be surprised that their favorite social media platform is far from Facebook. Nearly half of teens recently surveyed by investment bank Piper Jaffray chose Snapchat as their social medium of choice.

Facebook is preferred by a scant 4 percent of teens. Where teens and adults are in lockstep is in naming their favorite website: Amazon.

In truth, there’s nothing “wrong with these kids today” that isn’t also symptomatic of how adults act. More than four in 10 Americans check our phones within five minutes of getting out of bed every day. By the time we go back to sleep that night, we’ve consulted our cellphones another 50 times or more.

Those stats are courtesy of children’s media expert Sara DeWitt, who works at PBS Kids.

Speaking of cellphones, Ms. DeWitt says, “Parents are very worried that this device is going to stunt their children’s social growth… that this is going to disrupt childhood.”

She couldn’t disagree more. “[These screens] have the power to tell us more about what a child is learning than a standardized test can. These screens have the power to prompt more real-life conversations between kids and their parents.”

Sara DeWitt reminds us that history repeats itself: “Over 50 years ago, the debate was raging about the newly dominant medium: television. It might be separating kids from one another.”

There are three myths about screen time for kids, according to Ms. DeWitt, who sees them as unfounded “fears”: 1) Screens are passive; 2) Playing games on the screens is a waste of time; 3) Screens isolate children from parents.

You can hear more about what Sara DeWitt has to say on this subject on the podcast “Ted Talks Daily.” The 12-minute episode of Oct. 12, 2017, is titled, “3 Fears About Screen Time for Kids – and Why They’re Not True.”

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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