Ever heard of an organization called Ofcom? If you have neighbors who speak with an odd accent, drink too much hot tea and love the Queen, ask them. Ofcom is the FCC of the United Kingdom. And if you don’t know what the FCC is, well, we have bigger issues.
Both government entities regulate communication in their countries, and Ofcom released a report earlier this week that, at some point, will make it to your news feed. After 2,000 interviews, Ofcom has discovered we’re raising mutant robots who spend more time in front of screens than they spend interacting with mutant robot human beings.
Among their findings, children spend more than two hours every day online and nearly another two hours each day watching TV. It probably doesn’t matter how you try to juggle those numbers, because that’s a whole lot of time staring at a screen. In any given week, children ages 3-4 spend almost 30 hours a week in front of a screen, and that seems disgusting.
Of course, the results of this study come with dire warnings about the future, because children who watch too many videos or play tablet games are, quite obviously, destined for a life of solitude in grandma’s basement.
In a story from the Daily Mail, the first (hyperbolic) sentence read, “Children have become such screen addicts they are abandoning their friends and hobbies, a major report warns today.”
It continues, “Youngsters aged 12 to 15 average nearly three hours a day on the web, plus two more hours watching TV. The study said YouTube was a ‘near permanent feature’ of many young lives…”
So what do these staggering numbers mean? Depends who you ask. Sue Palmer, who works with the group Toxic Childhood, told the Daily Mail: “In the early years, children need interaction with other people, and play – it is key to their social skills.”
I understand the hysteria over numbers like this. Of course, we have to remember the study was done in the United Kingdom, and because it rains over there all the time (doesn’t it?), what else are those kiddos going to do besides drink tea and watch American kids open new toys?
But from a dad of three, let me tell you the anxiety is real. My wife and I have panic attacks when we see our sons become demonic over the chance to touch a smartphone.
Let me offer another perspective, though, from the anxious one my wife and I have most days.
These days, you can’t swing a broom without reading a study about the impact of the digital world on our young people; this one just happens to be the latest. The problem with these studies, at least in my opinion, is that we use an older generation’s perspective to predict what our children’s generation will face.
Consider my childhood, for instance. I drank Kool-Aid. Most young people won’t remember this, but the contents of a 2-quart pitcher of Kool-Aid included one small pack of flavored dye and two cups of sugar. Fill the rest of the jug with water and, boom, a refreshing, diabetes-inducing drink. And if you haven’t seen two cups of sugar at the bottom of a pitcher, it looks like a mountain.
If I wasn’t drinking Kool-Aid, I had a jug of grape juice nearby. Maybe some of you still do this, but my body goes into glycemic shock if I try to drink a small glass of straight juice.
At some point in my life, and I don’t know when, I realized Kool-Aid was no longer a viable option for thirst quenching. Same with grape juice. Upon becoming a reasonable adult, I stopped drinking it because it wasn’t good for me.
But this study isn’t about food; it’s about TV and video consumption. My 2-year-old son watches a YouTube show called Little Baby Bum whenever mom or dad feels like handing him a phone.
While that may sound like a terrible practice, each of the videos in that series is some modern version of a learning song. Cal, who still has eight months before he turns 3, can nearly count to 20 (those teen numbers are tricky). He knows every color, every shape, and he sings, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” when he hits baseballs off a tee.
When I was a kid, I caught my share of Looney Tunes, and the only thing I remember from those animated masterpieces was the anvil trying to crush Bugs Bunny. Our cartoons were about violence – here’s winking at you, Popeye. Today’s cartoons are educational.
Yes, we can fuss about our children doing too many activities on a screen, but here’s a question: How many hours did you spend today looking at a screen? I still have two hours of work left and I’ve spent five hours staring at my computer.
Sure, we need to be cautious with our children, but a recent conversation with my oldest son, Hank, reminded me that we’re parenting in a different age. I asked Hank if he could remember when he and I took a trip together last year to our office in Charlotte. Not only did he remember the trip, he remembered the decorations in the room, the exact water slide we rode 29 different times and the snacks he got when we visited my office.
From there, he immediately started talking about a trip he and I took to Galveston. He talked about a crab we found on the beach and the dessert we had at dinner. Not once did he mention a show we watched or a video game he played.
Sure, we should all do a better job of watching over our children, but we also need to remember that their lives will be full of screens when they’re our age. We aren’t creating mutant robots just because they use today’s technology. We just need to make sure they know when to stop drinking Kool-Aid.