The Problem Isn’t Screen Time, the Problem Is Content

Awhile back, The New York Times published an article entitled “A Dark Consensus About Screen and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley.” The subtitle, which quoted an executive assistant of Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, read, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones.” Personally, I believe nothing could be further from the truth. The issue regarding kids and technology is not screen time; the issue is that there is a lack of virtuous content.

The article presents options between permitting zero screen time–comparing it to crack cocaine–to a series of implemented rules. Chris Anderson, a former editor at Wired Magazine, said,

“We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand. …This is scar tissue talking. We’ve made every mistake in the book, and I think we got it wrong with some of my kids.”

pexels ketut subiyanto 4545778 The Problem Isn’t Screen Time, the Problem Is Content

Now, reportedly, Anderson has twelve tech rules in his home, which include:

  • no screens in bedrooms
  • network-level content blocking
  • no phones until the summer before high school
  • no social media until age 13
  • no iPads at all
  • screen time schedules enforced by Google Wifi that he controls from his phone

If a child misbehaves in Anderson’s system, they are prohibited from being online for 24 hours.

Anderson’s house rules aren’t atypical. Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his kids near iPads until they were older. Bill Gates forbade cell phones until his children became teenagers. John Lilly, the former CEO of Mozilla, worries that his 13-year-old is being manipulated into buying Fortnite skins.

But amidst all of the fear that screens are radically messing up our kids, I believe everyone seems to be missing the point. The problem isn’t really screen time. The problem is that there isn’t enough virtuous content being created to occupy our kids’ time when they are on these devices.

Technology, including screens, is not inherently bad for humans. This is not to imply that we shouldn’t be self-limiting at times so as to avoid idolatry. But, we should also be careful not to unnecessarily demonize tech, either.

That is because tech really isn’t the problem. How we choose to use technology and the motivations of the people who create it are the real issues at hand. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: until we begin to care for and teach practices of virtue formation in the lives of technologists, humanity will reap exactly what we sow.

Until we begin to care for and teach practices of virtue formation in the lives of technologists, humanity will reap exactly what we sow.

It is for exactly such reasons that I’ve worked to create the organization CoCreators, which helps further the work of ministering to our technologists and influencing technology in life-affirming directions. When tech types aren’t sure how to act virtuously or how to create virtue-driven products, they need experts to turn to who have experience in cultivating such formational values. Unless we begin investing in people to create better content (and better technology in general), we will always try to make a scapegoat of something else when the problem is actually self-inflicted.

Reality Changing Observations:

1. What do you think are appropriate regulations of screen times for kids, and why?

2. How might creating virtuous content help dissuade arguments against screen time?

3. What benefits have you observed in screen time for children?

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