The trou­ble with our phones

Imperial Valley Press - - SPORTS - ELAINE HEFFNER

The tech­nol­o­gists of Sil­i­con Val­ley who gave us tech­nol­ogy’s many forms, are reach­ing a con­sen­sus that the ben­e­fits of screens as a learn­ing tool are overblown, and the risks for ad­dic­tion and stunt­ing devel­op­ment are high. Par­ents, in­creas­ingly con­cerned about lim­it­ing screen time for chil­dren, have also cre­ated a new job for nan­nies, that of screen po­lice.

Con­cern about tech from those work­ing in tech­nol­ogy is not new.

Those like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs sounded alarms and banned cell­phones and iPads for their chil­dren. But the past year has pro­duced many find­ings about the neg­a­tive im­pact of cell­phones, com­put­ers and so­cial me­dia, par­tic­u­larly about what th­ese tech­nol­ogy gad­gets do to the hu­man brain.

Those who de­vel­oped the uses of tech­nol­ogy thought they could con­trol it but now find it is be­yond their power to con­trol.

The fail­ure of re­cent at­tempts by the lead­ers of so­cial me­dia to cor­rect var­i­ous as­pects of the tech­nol­ogy in­volved in the more egre­gious fall­out from their sites is a case in point.

Par­ents fear that their chil­dren are be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by tech­niques that go di­rectly to the plea­sure cen­ters of the de­vel­op­ing brain.

Psy­chol­o­gists work­ing for the com­pa­nies make the tools phe­nom­e­nally ad­dic­tive, be­ing well-versed in the field of per­sua­sive de­sign — in­flu­enc­ing hu­man be­hav­ior through the screen.

Fac­ing the dif­fi­culty of lim­it­ing screen time — es­pe­cially cell­phone use — for their chil­dren, par­ents are con­fronted by their own in­volve­ment with th­ese de­vices. Those who strive for no screen time at all may find the rules harder to fol­low them­selves. Nanny agen­cies across Sil­i­con Val­ley re­port that par­ents are ask­ing nan­nies to sign no-phone-use con­tracts.

At a time when many work­ing par­ents use cell­phones as a way of keep­ing track of their chil­dren, los­ing that means of con­trol is an­other source of anx­i­ety.

Those with the means can hire some­one else to do it — hence the new nanny con­tracts. But there are many for whom that is not an op­tion. It is clearer than ever that tech­nol­ogy in its many forms has be­come a kind of child mind­ing in an era of parental stress.

Anx­i­ety about screens also points to a more ex­ten­sive dif­fi­culty par­ents may have about set­ting lim­its for their chil­dren.

It is par­ents who pro­vide the cell­phones, com­put­ers and other tech gad­gets, yet they seem to feel a loss of con­trol over the rules they want fol­lowed. Part of the dif­fi­culty is the peer group in­flu­ence both on par­ents and the chil­dren them­selves.

A mother who re­sisted mak­ing an iPad avail­able for her son found that he was the only one in his class with­out one.

The new con­cern about chil­dren’s screen use points to yet an­other po­ten­tial sign­post of eco­nomic in­equal­ity. Only re­cently the con­cern was that eco­nom­i­cally ad­van­taged chil­dren would have ac­cess to the in­ter­net ear­lier, gain­ing tech skills and cre­at­ing a dig­i­tal di­vide. In­creas­ingly, chil­dren have been asked to do home­work on­line, while only two-thirds of peo­ple in the coun­try have in­ter­net ser­vice.

Now, with the in­creas­ing panic about the im­pact of screen time on chil­dren, there is the pos­si­bil­ity that the chil­dren of poorer and mid­dle-class par­ents will be raised by screens, while the chil­dren of those well off will go back to ap­pro­pri­ate toys and greater hu­man in­ter­ac­tion.

The com­pa­nies that make tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts com­pete to get th­ese prod­ucts into schools and tar­get stu­dents at an early age. Un­for­tu­nately, many schools do not have the re­sources for ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and the use of screens fill the gap.

Is the devil in the screens them­selves, or in the way the con­tent is de­signed and pro­vided? Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., is a psy­chother­a­pist and par­ent ed­u­ca­tor in pri­vate prac­tice, as well as a se­nior lec­turer of ed­u­ca­tion in psy­chi­a­try at Weill Cor­nell Med­i­cal Col­lege. Dr. Heffner was a co-founder and served as di­rec­tor of the Nurs­ery School Treat­ment Cen­ter at Payne Whit­ney Clinic, New York Hos­pi­tal. And she blogs at good­e­nough­moth­er­

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