Talking to parents about their kids’ online lives is one of the job perks at Cyberwise. It’s always interesting to hear firsthand what parents worry about most when it comes to their kids and screens. Invariably, it’s this: screen time.
One evening, while delivering a parent presentation at a school in Los Angeles, CA, Cyberwise co-founder Cynthia Lieberman and I were listening to parents express their anguish over this very issue. As parents spoke, I watched their kids, many who were sitting quietly in the rear of the auditorium. They were all busy on devices—tablets, laptops, smartphones—and completely oblivious to our conversation. When I pointed this out to their parents, they explained that their kids had to be online because they were “doing their homework.”
Curious to see what they were really doing, Lieberman roamed the room. Surreptitiously glancing over the kids’ shoulders, she spied Instagram posts, Snapchat Stories, and text messages (lots of text messages) . . . and some homework. “What they were actually doing is what former Apple and Microsoft executive Linda Stone coined as paying ‘continuous partial attention,’ where the brain switches back and forth quickly between tasks,” says Lieberman.
If you ask kids about it, they’ll tell you they can successfully manage all the things their devices let them do at once. However, switching from one task to another causes both tasks to suffer. Contrary to what most kids think, it takes longer to finish multiple tasks when jumping back and forth between them than it does to finish each one separately.
When it came to her portion of the presentation, Lieberman asked the kids what they typically do on their devices, and what they were doing right then. Smirks and giggles erupted as a few chimed in, “Homework,” “Yeah, homework, of course.” When she pressed to find out if they were only doing homework, most squirmed uncomfortably in their seats before admitting, “Well, maybe we were doing some texting and playing games in between, too.”
“The truth is, the constant barrage of digital distractions inside and outside of class are a tremendous challenge for kids to manage,” says Lieberman. “Parents need help trying to keep their young learners on task.”
In my forthcoming book, “Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology,” I offer lots of suggested activities that families can do together to help their children learn to balance online and offline life. But no matter how much time you spend helping your kids develop this skill, they will still need help. Today’s devices are just too powerful, with too many build in mechanisms designed to capture and hold attention, for kids with still-developing brains to be able to resist their allure. That’s why parents (and kids) need the help that parental control software, like Mobicip, can offer.
So, to parents everywhere, as your kids begin to unwrap the tech products that are likely under the tree, remember it’s not too late to gift yourself with the peace of mind that parental control software can offer.
Diana Graber, founder of Cyber Civics and co-founder of Cyberwise, is the author of the forthcoming book, “Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology” (HarperCollins Leadership/Jan. ’19).