The Parent Blame Game: What to Do When Screens Win Out
By Diane E. Levin
The Boston Globe article, “In Reversal, Kids Nag Parents to Step Away from Their Phones, Laptops” by Beth Yeitell (March 8, 2012, available here) once again blames parents for doing it wrong. They are spending too much time with technology and screens instead of spending time with their children.
I am not saying that parents aren’t spending too much time on screens, but it would be helpful instead of blaming parents to ask, “Why are parents spending so much time with screens and what can we do about it, instead of just blaming them?” The fact is that parents are victims of many of the same forces in society that their children are—including being lured to screens.
The parents of today grew up when media and technology were becoming a much bigger force in their lives than it had been for their parents—computers, video games, cell phones, became regular and accepted forces in their families during their childhoods. I began studying this increase in the middle 1980s because of concerns that teachers were voicing about the changes they were seeing in children’s play, behavior and skills. It was this work that led me to write my book, Remote Control Childhood: Combating the Hazards of Media Culture, in 1998. Screen use has been steadily on the rise in the lives of children and adults every year since I began studying it.
We know from research that screens can be addictive. They replace active engagement with real things in the real world. As children, today’s parents learned to be “remote controlled.” Screens lured them into following someone else’s “program” instead of their learning how to come up with own. They became used to being bombarded with a continuing onslaught of action, excitement that filled their time making real world activities often seem boring. They interacted with other people less, thereby learning less about how to have caring and connected relationships. More and more of their lives became dependent on using screens to meet their needs, to get things done.
Why should parents suddenly know how to turn their screens off and actively engage in the world and with their own children when they become parents? Why should they know how to turn off all the ways their lives have become dependent on getting things done using screens? Why should they know how to resist all the marketing that tells them if you just had this or that new screen or screen product your life would be better, you would be happier?
Many parents do not know how to disconnect from their screens and reconnect with the real world and with their own children. Let’s help them learn to turn off their screens and engage with their children in big and little ways. For example: they can choose a regular time everyday when the whole family has no screens and does something together. But then we need to help them figure out engaging activities that they can do together when the screens are turned off.
It’s time to stop blaming parents for not knowing how to resist the hazards created by modern day society. It’s time to deal directly and thoughtfully with all the ways media and technology are changing childhood, parenthood and the wider society.
 Published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, DC.
Diane Levin, Ph.D. is Professor of Early Childhood Education at Wheelock College. She teaches courses on play, action research, children and media, and the impact of violence on children. She is the author or co-author of 8 books related to how various forces in society affect children. She is currently working with DEY (Defending the Early Years), a project rallying educators to speak out about how new policies and reforms are impacting early childhood education.
Her website can be accessed at dianeelevin.com.