Good Digital Parenting
Blog | March 12, 2015

No Tech or Slow Tech?

Founder, CyberWise and Cyber Civics

A couple years ago the NY Times ran a story titled, “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute,” about employees of companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, and more, who send their children to Waldorf schools where, “Not a computer to be found. No screens at all.”

I teach digital literacy or Cyber Civics at a Waldorf-inspired public charter school where parents, teachers, and administration constantly grapple with the issue of “screen time.” The suggestion of no screens, especially at a school that runs through 8th grade, is the modern-day equivalent of holding one’s finger in the dike. So this school is talking about the idea of slow tech rather than no tech. Starting in sixth grade, we teach students the skills they need to be thoughtful, safe, and productive “digital citizens.” We also suggest that parents introduce technology in a developmentally appropriate way at home.

Sound crazy? Well, if you compare this approach to the current norms where most kids are glued to screens from the time they can grasp them in their tiny little hands, I guess it can seem unorthodox. But the research tells a different story. 

Current Research on Screen Time

Since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended no screen time at all for children under 2 because they believed there were more potential negative effects than positive effects of media exposure. Newer data bears this out, and the AAP stands by its recommendation to keep children under age 2 as “screen-free” as possible. 

Updated guidelines from the AAP recommend no more than two hours per day of any type of entertainment screen time for kids ages 3 to 18. The AAP has been criticized for this recommendation as being out of touch (the average young person spends 7.5 hours per day engaged with media according the Kaiser Family Foundation). But the AAP points to several long-term studies indicating that over two hours per day of media use leads to a host of ill-effects for children and teens, such as a higher risk for obesity, a drop in school performance, increased aggression, emotional and family problems, and more.  

Research is also confirming that technology can get in the way of the development of “social cognition,” or the skills needed to be aware of one’s own mental state as well as the state of others.  For example, a recent study conducted by researchers at UCLA, found that sixth-graders who went five days without looking at a smartphone, television or other digital screen were substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices. 

It’s easy to forget that we are still in the early days of technology use. Surely more long-term studies of the short-term phenomenon of digital overload will tell us that excessive media exposure is both good and bad for our kids. But in the meantime, why not err on the side of caution and take a “slow tech” approach towards tech use?

A Slow Tech Approach

My friend, longtime Waldorf educator and teacher mentor Patti Connolly has been working on the following “Slow Tech” guidelines for the Waldorf set and I think her ideas have a lot of merit for children in all school settings. Following is an abbreviated version of her recommendations:

0-2 years

Your child needs: 

  • To explore, learn to trust, and engage in “joint attention” with you.
  • Parent(s) should put away computers and tablets when with their child.

3-6 years

Your child needs:

  • Uninterrupted time engaging in old-fashioned play (i.e., dress up, active outside play), playing with toys that require a “stick-to-it”-ness, exploring nature, listening to you read and tell stories.
  • Strict limits on passive screen time (of educational programs with you co-viewing). 
  • An introduction to how to participate with tech devices in a very limited, positive way by engaging in activities with your child, such as emailing grandparents with child dictating (using technology like Kids Email that can keep this experience safe and protected).

7-9 years

Your child needs:

  • Continued uninterrupted time to play, to be actively engaged in real life experiences, to read and be read to, to pursue hobbies, to explore nature, to play with open-ended, creative toys.
  • Limited passive screen time with you co-viewing.
  • Time with you sharing more ways to participate with media (i.e., co-viewing media that help the child learn how to make something new, sing/record a song, use interactive apps). 
  • Playing creative, interactive, non-violent video games with parent.
  • Your firm guidance on how to move through boredom without engaging in screen time. 

10-12 years

Your child needs:

  • Continued uninterrupted time to play.
  • Limited passive screen time with you co-viewing. 
  • Time with you sharing ideas on ways to participate with media: reading e-books, researching a question online, learning to keyboard and how to program, setting up an email account that you monitor and control (i.e., Kids Email), trying an age appropriate social media site (like Club Penguin, or SnapKidz)   
  • Your firm guidance on how to move through boredom without engaging in screen time. 

13-14 years

Your child needs:

  • Continued time to engage in nature in new, challenging ways (rock climbing, mountain biking, etc.), to pursue hands-on interests/hobbies, and to spend time being with friends in active, “real life” experiences. 
  • Limited passive screen time. 
  • Opportunities to become an ethical, responsible user of tech, such as: creating media (videos, music, stories, etc.) with parent supervision; researching for school or for own interests with parent support; completing homework on computer in common area of house; playing creative, interactive, non-violent video games.  
  • Clear agreements with you about tech use tailored to age. It’s more about how than how much.
  • Create code of conduct with your child: “Don’t be mean, don’t lie, don’t embarrass other people, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, don’t go places you’re not allowed to go, don’t post pictures that would make Grandma cringe.” 

To see the complete list and for more information, please visit they CyberWise Age of Use Learning Hub. Patti and I will be talking “Slow Tech” and sharing Cyber Civics lessons at the upcoming iTech & I Am and NAMLE Conferences. 

Cover image courtesy of Flickr