November 17, 2019information agelifehack

Screen Time and its discontents

We had serious negotiations over how much screen time the kids should be allowed. We settled for 90 minutes, albeit with a dissent note from the wife.

Deccan Herald This is from my Debates with My Daughters column that appeared in the Deccan Herald in 2019-20

The wife has always been against it. Why, she asked, do eleven-year-olds need a smartphone? Kids are easily distracted even without phones, and putting a device in their hands means that they’ll waste even more of their time and attention. She is a staunch believer in the idea of regular study hours and diligent doing of home work. Every time I tell the children of the joys of last minute preparation and life experience of going to school without having looked at the home work, she accuses me of being responsible for their grades. I do not disagree and accept the credit that is directed my way.

My wife is also worried, a little, about the other risks that emanate from the internet — from cyber bullying, to violation of privacy to interactions with malafide strangers. But it is distraction and smartphone addiction that worries her the most.

I have tried to persuade my wife that our kids were born in the Information Age and will have to deal with a world where everyone is connected, immersed in social media, is being profiled by technology companies, spied on by half-a-dozen governments and at risk from various cyber threats. Introducing them to this world early will equip them to survive and succeed in the brave new world. Like riding a bicycle, swimming, skating and convincing an autorickshaw driver to take you where you want to go, it is a life skill that you should learn early, when failures are not too damaging.

I do not think she buys my arguments completely, but found herself outvoted on the matter. So the girls have phones and claim that they are unfairly blamed for being on the devices all the time when it is just coincidence that their parents notice them when they took a break from studies, reading or playing to look at the screen. My wife often complains that I do not notice how much time they are spending on their phones because I am lost in my own devices.

More than the time they spend on the phone, I think what matters is what they do on it. I hate speaking on the phone and consider anything longer than 90 seconds as intolerable. I hate it when the phone rings. I prefer messages, with the notifications turned off, so that I can respond when I want to. Both the girls disagree with this in principle, but I do not think they are engage in extended phone conversations. Yes, I am aware that I could be very wrong.

From what I gather, the Fairy is on Insta’ and Airy tends to chat with her friends. They both devour music and have an unlimited amount of it thanks to Family Sharing on Apple. Like me, they are not into gaming. One of the things they enjoy is taking photographs and recording videos of them doing silly things. They follow YouTubers but were denied permission to start their own channel until they turned 18. For reasons of privacy.

There are many more Debates with my Daughters here

As parents we were happy when Apple introduced Screen Time that allows you to track and limit internet use across devices. We had serious negotiations over how much screentime they should be allowed. We settled for 90 minutes, albeit with a dissent note from the wife. Screen Time is not perfect but allows us parents a little more control over the kids’ online activities. It does not, however, match human genius. All too often, Airy comes up to me, in all sincerity asking for more screentime so that she can finish important school work. Much like our government that spends tax revenues on boondoggles like Air India, and then levies a cess for higher education and Swachch Bharat.

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