Back to school, with focus and well-being.
© Banksy, No Future, 2010

Back to school, with focus and well-being.

The global lockdown has left children at risk of being psychologically maimed. As they go back to school, what can we do to protect them?

One of the many problematic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis has been the enormous increase in children’s screentime. And nowadays, we know all to well that living one’s life through gadgets is linked to problems with physical fitness, posture, eyesight, concentration, anxiety, identity issues and more. Perhaps most frighteningly, the shift to having a significant amount of children’s social interaction happening via digital devices is causing real damage to their social development and emotional well-being. Focussing on education, it’s now well known that having a smartphone with us reduces our IQ level.

Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, people have been discussing how to take advantage of the upheaval to “rebuild better”. One oft-heard example is traffic calming; making local streets better places to live. Perhaps this is now a good time to do something similar with the rôle that tech is playing in our children’s consciousness, to take the opportunity to allow them to grow up somewhere other than at the side of the information superhighway.

New school year, new habits

The basics are simple: digital sunset (devices handed in at a set time, well before bedtime) and a dedicated alarm clock (never waking up to a smartphone).

But to avoid that IQ drop, inability to concentrate, social awkwardness, etc., we need to go further: ensure that our children grow up to see screen-based activity as incidental to In The Real World living, rather than the other way round. In other words, not considering visits to ITRW (eating, using the toilet, interacting with one’s parents and other people) as unwelcome interruptions to life In The Constantly Stimulating Online World.

We would like to make two suggestions. The first is to build in strict rules about digital down-time: no phones at the dinner table, no scrolling while talking, etc. Similarly, when going on trips out to museums, adventure playgrounds, etc., no smartphones whatsoever. Actually leaving them at home, or at least handing them over to their parents for the duration. Otherwise, that vulnerable brain will be constantly twitching for its next digitally-delivered dopamine hit.

Secondly, who benefits from children owning smartphones at all? Answer: mainly the tech companies and advertisers. Anyone who profits from mind rental. So, now that the downsides of tech have become clear to all of us, maybe it’s time to take things to the next level: giving our children voicephones instead of smartphones. The life-long advantages are clear.

But PING!: what about peer pressure? How will they interact with other kids, if they can’t fake-interact? The answer, for those of us disinclined to surrender at the first hurdle, is to prepare them. Make sure they know about how a smartphone reduces its owner’s IQ, so that they can stick up for themselves if necessary. Ideally, work through the issues until they themselves want to get connected, to get ITRW. But if that’s not possible, be parental and simply tell them how it’s going to be. Arm them with rebuffs like “I want to achieve something with my life”, “Oh, looking at your phone again?”, “That phone stuff is boring”, “Oh, so phoney”, etc. Also, if possible, get a few other parents to join in. Create a kind of digital divide between the haves (who have a real life) and the have nots (who are facing a life of electronic peasantry).

As children face a lifetime of remote working and remote living, this is their last chance.

The mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power, study shows (Science Daily)

Further reading:
Kids losing social skills to smartphones (The Scotsman)
Children checking their phones ten times or more through the night (The Express)

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