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Tech GenerationReview - Tech Generation
Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World
by Mike Brooks and Jon Lasser
Oxford University Press, 2018
Review by Bob Lane, MA
Jul 31st 2018 (Volume 22, Issue 31)

Parents often worry about raising kids in a tech-saturated world - the threats of cyberbullying, video game violence, pornography, and sexting may seem inescapable. And while these dangers exist, there is a much more common and subtle way that technology can cause harm: by eroding our attention spans. Focused attention is fundamental to maintaining quality relationships, but our constant interaction with screens and social media is shortening our attention spans - which takes a toll on our personal connections with friends and family and our ability to form real relationships.

Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World guides parents in teaching their children how to reap the benefits of living in a digital world while also preventing its negative effects. Mike Brooks and Jon Lasser, psychologists with extensive experience working with kids, parents, and teachers, combine cutting-edge research and expertise to create an engaging and helpful guide that emphasizes the importance of the parent-child relationship. They reject an "all or nothing" attitude towards technology, in favor of a balanced approach that neither idealizes nor demonizes the digital. Brooks and Lasser provide strategies for preventing technology from becoming problematic in the first place; steps for addressing problems when they arise; and ways of intervening when problems are out of control. They also discuss the increasingly challenging issue of technology use in schools, and how parents can collaborate with educators when concerns arise over kids' use of technology.

The basic premise is simple: the tech world can be a dangerous and destructive world, but also it is here to stay and we all need to learn how to use it and not abuse it! How many times have you been out in the city and noticed that everyone is hooked up to an electronic device? Teen-agers on their cell phones, ear plugged into conversations or music, while trying to avoid other pedestrians or automobiles. Just this morning on a walk I witnessed a near disaster as a young man was crossing the street while looking at his phone and not paying attention to the world around him. A good Samaritan was able to grab him in time. He continued on his way, unhurt this time, and still connected.

As parents, we make decisions every day about how we should raise our kids. We put time and energy into ensuring that their needs are met. While every family is unique, we generally want our kids to be physically healthy, to do well in school, to maintain friendships, to develop interests and hobbies, and to engage with family members. An additional demand comes with the age of technology. We need to learn to achieve a "balanced use of technology" that will allow for the educated use of the many new devices available while still maintaining family and social connections based upon good old-fashioned conversations between and among living present non-hooked up persons. This book is an excellent way to learn strategies to do just that. It is a fact-based self-help book with a clear description of the problem; and with suggestions for coping as parents and consumers of digital materials such as those available via video games, cell phones, laptops, and tablets. The authors have developed an approach based on their experiences as researchers, clinicians, and parents. Dr. Mike Brooks earned his doctorate in Educational Psychology and has been a gamer since the dawn of the video game era. He did his dissertation research on the effects of video game violence on children, and he worked as a usability specialist in the tech sector in the first decade of the 2000s. Dr.Jon Lasser earned a PhD in Educational Psychology and has worked as a university professor and psychologist in the public schools, as well as a clinician in private practice, serving children and families from preschool through high school. With two daughters now in their twenties, he has had direct experience navigating the rocky terrain of screen time with his own children. "In his private practice, Dr. Lasser works with children and their parents to promote social, emotional, and behavioral wellness. In many cases, Dr. Lasser works with kids and their parents to deal with the many challenges presented by screen time in family life."

The approach is easy to follow and as I mentioned, fact based. For example, chapters often start with a real-life problem:

Amber, age 18, was on a special European summer vacation with her parents before she was to leave for college. Amber was very active on social media and used Instagram and Snapchat to keep in almost constant contact with her friends. She hoped to share her European adventures with them as she experienced them. Amber's parents had been saving money for quite some time to create an experience together that they hoped to cherish for years to come. While in Tuscany, Amber was frustrated about spotty cellular service. She wanted to post selfies to Instagram and Snapchat with the picturesque Tuscan landscape in the background. She became so obsessed with finding cellular service that she stopped appreciating her surroundings altogether. She got into some heated arguments with her parents about this. In exasperation, she screamed at them, "You don't understand! If I can't share all this with my friends, what's the point?!" Her parents were both hurt and frustrated by their daughter's behavior. They felt particularly sad that they had paid so much money for what was supposed to be a magical, bonding trip with their daughter who was about to leave home.

While we used to take a camera on our trips, snap pictures to bring home, and then build a photo album to share with friends and family; we now have this instant way of sharing with our cell phone and the internet. But as Amber's case highlights: the "need" to share instantly can ruin the immediate appreciation of the adventure.

So, the practical questions, as articulated by the authors, are: • How much screen time should kids have? • When should I get my child a smartphone? • When should I allow my child/ teen access to social media? • How do I know if it's too much screen time? • What do I do if my child is abusing or misusing technology? "Our incessant use of technology poses a formidable and insidious threat to our happiness. We are happiest in life when we are engaged in it. This is particularly true of our relationships, with which much of our happiness is inextricably linked."

In a recent study , University of Texas at Austin researcher Dr. Adrian Ward and colleagues found a "brain drain" effect for the mere presence of a smartphone. That is, the presence of a smartphone, even when silenced, appears to reduce cognitive capacity. The researchers found that those individuals with the highest smartphone dependence were more adversely affected by the presence of their smartphones than those who are less dependent. "47 Study participants overwhelmingly rated that the presence of the smartphone did not interfere with their cognitive performance when, in fact, it was adversely affected— consistent with the study finding that people who rate themselves as adept multitaskers are actually poor at it."

Once the problem is clear then the authors offer a solution: A Tech Happy Life model based on a three-tiered public health approach (preventing, addressing, and intervening). Start with these observations, 1. Here's the reality that we all know to be true: The only reason we didn't use smartphones and tablets when we were kids is that they did not exist back then. 2. We live in a rapidly changing technological world that is filled with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, PlayStations, iPhones, tablets, Fitbits, YouTube, Netflix, and, more recently, virtual reality headsets. By the time you read this, some of these technologies will likely have evolved. These advances aren't going to slow down. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and other companies are constantly trying to innovate and to offer technological advances to keep ahead of one another and the upstart competitors that try to establish themselves. 3. Technology is here to stay. • It is evolving rapidly. • It is increasingly becoming more integrated into our daily lives. • There are many pros and cons of technology. When we talk of the "pros" or benefits of technology, some of the broad categories include the following: • Increased knowledge • Increased productivity • Greater access to entertainment • Greater tools and opportunities for creativity • Improved social connection. Some of the broad categories of "cons" include the following: • Decreased attention • Decreased social connection • Decreased sleep • Decreased physical activity •

Another example:

David is a 17-year -old teen from an upper middle-class family. He goes to a fairly affluent public high school. While very bright, he underperforms in most of his classes and is generally a B– C student. He doesn't have an after-school job or any organized extracurricular activities. Although he used to be involved in sports such as cross-country running, he has become more immersed in his world of gaming. He is an avid League of Legends player. He spends three to four hours per day playing and up to twice that on weekends, holidays, and throughout the summer. He has a very high-end computer that he built himself. Although extremely tech-savvy, most of this energy is directed to gaming. He avoids spending time with his parents and his 13-year-old sister. He declines invitations to play family games. Even when he goes on family trips or out to eat with them, he is on his cell phone either texting, using social media, or playing games. He rarely engages in activities with friends in real life. When not on a screen, he seems nervous, fidgety, distracted, and unhappy. He has aspirations to become a professional League of Legends player on the tournament circuit. He says he is happy overall, but only when allowed to game as much as he wants.

The use of examples like the ones mentioned in the book work so well to engage the reader (oh, that's just what happened to me!) that reading the book is an enjoyable experience as well as a learning opportunity. There are concrete and doable suggestions for parents to follow that should help to accommodate the use of the new technology while maintaining some of the best practices of the past.

Good book. I recommend it.

 

© 2018 Bob Lane


Bob Lane is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Literature at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia.

 


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Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716