Black Boys in Crisis: Switching Off the Screens

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

Psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair is the author of The Big Disconnect, a book about technology use and children. She says, “If kids are allowed to play ‘Candy Crush’ on the way to school, the car ride will be quiet, but that’s not what kids need. They need time to daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with parents.” She continues: “Children have to know that life is fine off the screen. It’s interesting and good to be curious about other people, to learn how to listen. It teaches them social and emotional intelligence, which is critical for success in life.” Steiner-Adair suggests that children under two should have no access to digital devices whatsoever and that they should be used sparingly after that.

Most authorities agree with Steiner-Adair: screen time is debilitating and can lead to addiction and an inability to concentrate. However, screen use is increasing, and a majority of schoolchildren today have their own cell phones, not to mention tablets, gaming devices, and computers. All too often, parents are terrible models, as they too are usually addicted to their screens.

Parents, schools, and after-school programs should heed Steiner-Adair’s advice. Parents should model good on-screen behavior, refraining from playing video games while around children, and doing activities like reading and playing board games with their child. Strict limits should be placed on technology use. Screen time should be constrained, and only permitted when homework and chores are done.

Some parents imagine that offering kids plenty of screen time is preparing them for the digital world, but in fact, the opposite may be true. Many high-level executives in the tech sphere place strict limits on screen time. For example, Steve Jobs, whose gadgets revolutionized the world, did not allow his children to have iPads. Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired and current executive at 3D Robotics, says, “My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules. That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” Anderson says that rule number one for his kids is: “There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever.”

What alternatives might these tech high-flyers offer? Here’s Steve Jobs’s biographer, Walter Isaacson: “Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things. No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”

Is limiting screen time the key to helping black boys avoid the trappings of digital addiction?

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