Parental wor­ries age­less, in­fi­nite

Be­fore screen time con­cerns, there were nov­els, ra­dio

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Money - By Bar­bara Or­tu­tay As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK — When Stephen Den­nis was rais­ing his two sons in the 1980s, he never heard the phrase “screen time,” nor did he worry much about the hours his kids spent with tech­nol­ogy. When he bought an Ap­ple II Plus com­puter, he con­sid­ered it an in­vest­ment in their fu­ture and en­cour­aged them to use it as much as pos­si­ble.

Boy, have things changed with his grand­kids and their phones and their Snapchat, In­sta­gram and Twit­ter.

“It al­most seems like an ad­dic­tion,” said Den­nis, a re­tired home­builder who lives in Belle­vue, Wash. “In the old days, you had a com­puter and you had a TV and you had a phone but none of them were linked to the out­side world, but the phone. You didn’t have this om­nipres­ence of tech­nol­ogy.”

To­day’s grand­par­ents may have fond mem­o­ries of the “good old days,” but history tells us that adults have wor­ried about their kids’ fas­ci­na­tion with new­fan­gled en­ter­tain­ment and tech­nol­ogy since the days of dime nov­els, ra­dio, comic books and rock ’n’ roll.

“This whole idea that we even worry about what kids are do­ing is pretty much a

20th cen­tury thing,” said Katie Foss, a me­dia stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Mid­dle Ten­nessee State Univer­sity.

But when it comes to screen time, she said, “all we are do­ing is rein­vent­ing the same con­cern we were hav­ing back in the ’50s.”

True, the anx­i­eties these days seem par­tic­u­larly acute — as, of course, they al­ways have. Smart­phones have a highly cus­tom­ized,

24/7 pres­ence in our lives that feeds parental fears of Kathy and Stephen Den­nis show a photo of grand­chil­dren and phones as they dis­play a 1980s-era Ap­ple II+ com­puter.

an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior and stranger dan­ger.

What hasn’t changed, though, is a gen­eral parental dread of what kids are do­ing out of sight. In pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, this of­ten meant kids wan­der­ing around on their own or sneak­ing out at night to drink. These days, it might mean hid­ing in their bed­room, chat­ting with strangers on­line.

Less than a cen­tury ago, the ra­dio sparked sim­i­lar fears.

“The ra­dio seems to find par­ents more help­less than did the fun­nies, the au­to­mo­bile, the movies and other ear­lier in­vaders of the home, be­cause it can not be locked out or the chil­dren locked in,” Si­donie Mat­sner Gru­en­berg, di­rec­tor of the Child Study As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, told The Washington Post in 1931.

She added that the big­gest worry ra­dio gave par­ents was how it in­ter­fered

with other in­ter­ests — con­ver­sa­tion, mu­sic prac­tice, group games and read­ing.

In the early 1930s a group of moth­ers from Scars­dale, N.Y., pushed ra­dio broad­cast­ers to change pro­grams they thought were too “over­stim­u­lat­ing, fright­en­ing and emo­tion­ally over­whelm­ing” for kids, said Mar­garet Cas­sidy, a me­dia his­to­rian at Adel­phi Univer­sity in New York who au­thored a chron­i­cle of Amer­i­can kids and me­dia.

Called the Scars­dale Moms, their ac­tivism led the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Broad­cast­ers to come up with a code of ethics around chil­dren’s pro­gram­ming in which they pledged not to por­tray crim­i­nals as he­roes and to re­frain from glo­ri­fy­ing greed, self­ish­ness and dis­re­spect for au­thor­ity.

Then tele­vi­sion burst into the pub­lic con­scious­ness with un­ri­valed speed. By 1955, more than half of all U.S. homes had a black

and white set, ac­cord­ing to Mitchell Stephens, a me­dia his­to­rian at New York Univer­sity.

A 1961 Stan­ford Univer­sity study on 6,000 chil­dren, 2,000 par­ents and 100 teach­ers found that more than half of the kids stud­ied watched “adult” pro­grams such as Westerns, crime shows and shows that fea­tured “emo­tional prob­lems.”

Re­searchers were aghast at the TV vi­o­lence pre­sen.

By the end of that decade, Congress had au­tho­rized $1 mil­lion — about $7 mil­lion to­day — to study the ef­fects of TV vi­o­lence, prompt­ing “lit­er­ally thou­sands of projects” in sub­se­quent years, Cas­sidy said.

That even­tu­ally led the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics to adopt, in 1984, its first rec­om­men­da­tion that par­ents limit their kids’ ex­po­sure to tech­nol­ogy. The med­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tion ar­gued that tele­vi­sion sent un­re­al­is­tic

mes­sages around drugs and al­co­hol, could lead to obe­sity and might fuel vi­o­lence.

Fif­teen years later, in 1999, it is­sued its now­in­fa­mous edict that kids un­der 2 should not watch any tele­vi­sion at all.

The spark for that de­ci­sion was the Bri­tish kids’ show “Tele­tub­bies,” which fea­tured ca­vort­ing hu­manoids with TVs em­bed­ded in their ab­domens.

But the odd TV-with­inthe-TV-be­ings con­ceit of the show wasn’t the prob­lem — it was the “gib­ber­ish” the Tele­tub­bies di­rected at pre­ver­bal kids whom doc­tors thought should be learn­ing to speak from their par­ents, said Don­ald Shifrin, a Univer­sity of Washington pe­di­a­tri­cian and for­mer chair of the AAP com­mit­tee that pushed for the rec­om­men­da­tion.

Video games pre­sented a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge. Decades of study have failed to val­i­date the most preva­lent fear, that vi­o­lent games en­cour­age vi­o­lent be­hav­ior.

But from the mo­ment the games emerged as a cul­tural force in the early 1980s, par­ents fret­ted about the way kids could lose them­selves in games as sim­ple and repet­i­tive as “PacMan,” ’A` steroids” and “Space In­vaders.”

This time, some ex­perts were more sym­pa­thetic to kids. Games could re­lieve anx­i­ety and fed the de­sire of kids to “be to­tally ab­sorbed in an ac­tiv­ity where they are out on an edge and can’t think of any­thing else,” Robert Mill­man, an ad­dic­tion spe­cial­ist at the New York Hospi­tal-Cor­nell Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter, told The New York Times in

1981. He cast them as be­nign al­ter­na­tives to gam­bling and “glue sniff­ing.”

Ini­tially, the in­ter­net got a sim­i­lar pass for help­ing with home­work and re­search. Yet as the in­ter­net be­gan link­ing peo­ple to­gether, of­ten in ways that con­nected pre­vi­ously iso­lated peo­ple, fa­mil­iar con­cerns soon resur­faced.

Sheila Az­zara, a grand­mother of 12 in Fall­brook, Calif., re­mem­bers learn­ing about AOL cha­t­rooms in the early 1990s and find­ing them “kind of a hos­tile place.” Teens with more per­mis­sive par­ents who came of age in the ’90s might re­mem­ber these cha­t­rooms as places a 17-yearold girl could pre­tend to be a 40-year-old man (and vice versa), and talk about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.

Az­zara still didn’t worry too much about tech­nol­ogy’s ef­fects on her chil­dren. Cell­phones weren’t in com­mon use, and com­put­ers — if fam­i­lies had them — were usu­ally set up in the liv­ing room.

But she, too, wor­ries about her grand­kids.

“They don’t in­ter­act with you,” she said. “They ei­ther have their head in a screen or in a game.”

ELAINE THOMP­SON/AP

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