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Limiting Kids’ Screen Time: How Do You Explain Why?

August 25, 2013 1 comment

“Mom, you sure played a lot of Pokémon today,” said my 9-year-old son.

I looked at him.  I hung my head.  “You’re right,” I said.  But I was caught in a frustrating part, and the same characteristics that make me good at finding a bug in code (“I’m going to fix this if it kills me”) also sometimes make me stubborn about a video game (“They say you can catch a Riolu here, and I’ve tried 100 times… so where’s my Riolu?”)

I should back up a bit.  The previous weekend, it rained all weekend. Again. (Atlanta is on track to set a rainfall record this year.)  And in the middle of a weekend at home where our plans were rained out, our household “screen time” limit was chaffing on the kids.  We let them have at most 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the afternoon of screen time–any kind of screen.  On a rained-in weekend, my son was challenging why we had this rule.  In exasperation, he asked, “Show me the study that says it’s bad for you!  What study shows that?”

Oh, ouch.  He’s got a point.  I told him about Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together. I told him about the cool paper by Morgan Ames and Jofish Kaye about how parents of different social classes manage their children’s media use differently.  But honestly I couldn’t come up with a hard reference.  How could you do a careful study of that, I pointed out?  So I trotted out the music analogy.  Look: some parents think it’s wonderful if their kids practice a musical instrument five hours a day. Some parents want their kids to be concert musicians and focus on just that one thing.  We don’t. If you played your saxophone in all your free time, we’d say you should take a break and go play a video game!  A healthy life is balanced.

Ye standard “Life is Balance” speech was not especially convincing.  If I could’ve pulled out a careful study proving my point, he would’ve accepted it.  But I didn’t have one.  (Please send me references!)

And I swear I didn’t do it on purpose–the Pokémon thing. But this morning I turned to him and said, “So yesterday you pointed out that I played too much Pokémon. Why did that bother you?”  And he replied, “well I mean, Mom you were just sitting there all day. You didn’t do anything else.  You…”  He stopped and looked at me.  “Ooooh, wait….” He smiled and shook his head.  He understood.  The perfect pedagogical lesson–and totally accidental.

In response to this my younger son did a comic role reversal, and made me promise I would be more careful about my screen time, or they’d have to start timing me. I sheepishly agreed.

How do you manage your children’s screen time? How do you explain the rationale for your policy to your kids? Leave me a comment!

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Rewriting the Narrative of “Social Media and the Arab Spring”

August 16, 2013 2 comments

Did you like the story of “social media and the Arab spring”?  Do you feel silly now?

Why do some ideas “catch on”?  Sherry Turkle’s first book Psychoanalytic Politics documents how psychoanalytic thinking took 1960s France by storm.  Obscure and difficult ideas suddenly became part of popular culture.  Why? Because they were “appropriable”–they resonated with concerns of the time.  Clifford Geertz says that culture is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves.  In 1960s France, that story was about Freud and Lacan. In 2012 America, that story was about “social media and the Arab spring.”  We were happy to tell ourselves:

Social media will set us free!  If only we could hear the people’s voices, then American-style democracy will emerge!  Look–peaceful protests are leading to new freedom. Technology is the answer. Our favorite new personal toys are not only fun, but world transforming.  Everyone wants to be like us, and our new toys will make that happen!

It’s the story we wanted to hear.  But its connection to reality was tenuous. As the situation in Egypt deteriorates into civil war, I hope we all feel humbled and chastised by the truth–the truth that it’s not that simple. I have no doubt that social media played a role in catalyzing change. But out of the frying pan and into the fire–change to what? The story is still being written, and I don’t know what the many endings will be.  But I do know that the pat narratives of 2012 were pretty silly.

How do we make sense of everything that has happened, and will happen?  It’s a hard problem.  A hard problem that will require research.  Research in political science.  So I’m sure in response to this situation, the US Congress has increased funding for political science this year and is asking leading researchers to hold summit meetings on what is happening and how we can influence it for good.  That would make sense, wouldn’t it?

In fact, under pressure from Congress, the NSF has dropped funding for political science for the rest of 2013.  That’s not an auspicious narrative–not one I want to appropriate at all.

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