Houston we have a problem – screen time, freetime, good time

„Three-two-one“ „Houston we have a problem! Captain’s child has a touch-enabled device in his hands again! “

And what about you? Do you use digital technologies? Are you using a mobile phone with internet access? Is your free time becaming the screentime? Do you worry about how to handle your children with access to IT?

Like any parent, I also deal with the question of my children ‘s access to technology. And as a mother and software developer at the same time, I often listen to this topic and I listen with my head open. Some people condemn them and some overuse them. Often I am talking to people on both poles, and I see how fragile the theories are when “age” comes, when the pressure comes from the media and classmates, and so when it comes to breaking bread.

For years, I have been analyzing and developing software products that help in the Czech Republic to control the production and management of waste and packaging, preserving cleaner air, or avoiding unfair business practices. I am grateful that I can feel some form of usefulness for society and not just for my own livelihoods. But also I am grateful for the work that I enjoy. And with this in mind, I am trying to look at this issue with unbiased eyes. Although I prefer to surround myself with nature rather than technology in the out-of-work time, I do not use the phone for entertainment in front of children’s eyes and I do not have a TV at home.

My generation and I were so fortunate that the internet came here in 1992, so we naturally spent the early childhood without it. But even after that date, there were only a few rocky ones on the Internet. Those who had access to it were often the creators, not the consumers. They could not count with any administration system, unless they didn’t write some by themself. So I tried programming. I was about eight years old. I didn’t have anything extra that your kids wouldn‘t have. I just had the parents’ faith that I could do it. And now I am grateful for it, because my job suited me greatly at different stages of life:

1) when I had a need to be good at something

2) to make a career

3) repay a mortgage while a man reconstructed a house

4) on maternity leave with occasional earning from home

5) and beyond  the maternity leave when now I have small children who often need a mother.

I wish my two daughters will have similar opportunity to reconcile work and family, whether technology plays a role in it or not.

IT technology will reach your children sooner or later, and this cannot be completely avoided. Unless you are not planning to move a long far away ☺  Technology is not a problem. Technologies are a tool. The tool needs to be mastered first to fulfill its purpose.

There is a big difference between a person who uncontrollably stuff oneself by sweetness of all kinds and a person who can bake a beautiful and tasty birthday cake for family celebration. Likewise, there is a huge difference between a fun-riding man and a content creator, developer and so on. So let’s talk about children, their age and screen-time.

Technology does not belong to the hands of three years old children at all. Or rather, it doesn’t develop them. Their brain is full of abstraction, just recognizing what the reality is and have enough time to get to know the virtuality. They do not absorb it, disturbing their ability to concentrate and delaying the development of fine motor skills. Young children (like chimpanzees) are able to use touch devices very soon, especially if they have such a pattern with their parents. But using a touch device will not make your toddler an IT professional, just as a tamagochi does not make it a breeder. Proper use of the pencil will start his or her creativity much better. By the way, every SW I have ever written, was partly captured by a pencil on paper at the very beginning.

After the tenth year of age, it will be harder to correct any bad habits. First of all, a child must understand that technology is primarily there to help in solving some problem (homework). Entertainment is at the penultimate place. (Cz) Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others from Sillicon valey know about it, and they have sent their successful children to Waldorf-type schools – schools without mobile phones, the Internet, computers. The tablet in the classroom is obviously a dead end.

Especially for boys around the age of 13, it will be necessary to watch the time spent by playing games.  As has been proven, games stimulate the same receptors as some drugs, so children can experience a rapid satisfaction with themself.  The boy is a hero now, he can fly, he has the fastest car, or he has the power (to kill whole village). In this, the real unexceptional world can’t compete with the beautiful virtual one (see the film Matrix again and you’ll know what I’m talking about). Getting used to quick satisfaction is not good. On the contrary, learning to wait for good will bring much more to their life – a lifelong partner doesn’t come right away, you don’t have your own home immediately, or you won’t get your paycheck right away. With my own eyes, I saw the slow, slight transformation of a 15-year-old handy boy into an 18-year-old young man on antidepressants because of playing PC games. Conversely, I see the birth of many smart family breadwinners by modeling objects on 3D printers or working remotely with a London-based companies whilst studying a Czech college.
So now a few shots for you, parent! ☺

  1. You are a parent – you have the right to say what game yes or no, and for how long. Do not give up this right.
  2. Screen-time limitation of 0.5h – 2h/ day – depending on the nature of the activity (if the child is programming, 2 hours will not be enough).

Especially for girls, the use of social media should be watched. I can see it now on my 5-year-old daughter, who doesn’t spend her time on the internet and doesn’t see it much at home. Only once she saw me watching Youtube video about coloring Easter eggs and immediatelly she wanted to try to make her own videos. So I made it for fun and I was very surprised by her acting performance – her “video” message for aunts had all the essentials, including the final flickering to the camera. I had to promise to send it to her aunts  and tell her “how they liked it”. Her building-up ego longed for “I like it”, longing for a sense of appreciation from the outside. By the way, Google’s services have a minimum age of 13 in terms of use, and they know why. Cyberbullying, cybergrooming is a real problem. And I think our generation, who has not experienced this, cannot even imagine what with the confidence of a young girl (boy) will make a daily glimpse into the shiny Instagram world where everyone else is beautiful, amazing and always happy. Be aware of what your child is watching and doing on social media, you have the right to be “in friends”. And more than ever, talk to them about how that particular photo / tweet /… really came about – develop critical thinking by often friendly talks.

If you see potential in technologies for your older child, don’t be afraid to support it. At the Technical University, where I teach, we have a summer children’s university, where children of 10-15 years learn the basics of cybernetics, program robots and they enjoy it a lot. And don’t be afraid to support girls. Often they are equally proficient in mathematics and logic (if not more), and work in this field can give them much.

And finally, I wish you much joy and deep relationships in our real world ☺

Author: Jitka Hübnerová, engineer, Ph.D.