The New York Times shines a light on one of these in a news piece today titled, “Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era“. During the beginning of the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, there was a disparity between the more wealthy and the poor as far as access and ownership of digital products and media. As the article says, it was termed, “the digital divide”. According to the NYT and the column’s author, Matt Richtel, the efforts worked and narrowed that divide but it created an “unintended side effect”. Namely, children in poorer families are spending significantly more time using electronic devices in a recreational manner than educational when compared with the more affluent children.
Policy makers, researchers and the government are troubled by this and want to fix it. Thankfully, Mr. Richtel identifies the problem early on in the article:
This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.
Here is where the wheels come off the bus. Of course, the proposed solutions are federal funds for the FCC to create a “digital literacy corps” that would deploy to schools, libraries, and organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, the NAACP and others in order to provide training to parents. Note, they are saying that it is not the ability as parents to control the behavior of the kids but rather the ability of parents to understand technology in order to monitor/limit their kids.
Thought #1: The easiest way to address this is through the parents enforcing limits at home. Our computers are in a public space in our home and we can monitor what and how long the kids are on it. Portable devices such as iTouches, laptops, Nooks, iPads, etc require a bit more effort by parents, but it is doable. Without any additional training, software, or help. Talk to them. Find where they are hiding in your house. Have them park their cellphone in a common place or drawer while they don’t need it. Stand up and tell your son or daughter, “No”. And don’t back down. Have some guidelines – when homework is done and you’ve had some exercise, then you can goof off on the computer, XBox, Wii, cell phone, etc. for some amount of time. Unsupervised and unbounded kids gain a sense of entitlement that they should be able to have as much computer time as they want. And do what they want on the devices. This leads no where good. Online bullying, teasing, and other inappropriate behavior.
Thought #2: Maybe a broad access – read ownership – of these devices isn’t a good thing after all. A case in point is illustrated later in the article:
The concerns are brought to life in families like those of Markiy Cook, a thoughtful 12-year-old in Oakland who loves technology.
At home, where money is tight, his family has two laptops, an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii, and he has his own phone. He uses them mostly for Facebook, YouTube, texting and playing games.
He particularly likes playing them on the weekends.
“I stay up all night, until like 7 in the morning,” he said, laughing sheepishly. “It’s why I’m so tired on Monday.”
His grades are suffering. His grade-point average is barely over 1.0, putting him at the bottom of his class. He wants to be a biologist when he grows up, he said.
Money is tight and they have two laptops, an XBox and a Wii and a 12 year old has his own cellphone. In GorT’s house, we have 1 laptop (albeit GorT and Mrs. GorT have work-provided laptops as well), one XBox and one Wii and the XBox is a recent addition. If money were tight, we wouldn’t have all of this. And we have a house rule that you have to be 13 in order to get a cellphone – largely because before then you aren’t doing anything to require a cellphone and we’re not buying you one and paying a cellphone plan for your entertainment. Money isn’t tight but we aren’t spending it willy-nilly. And guess what? They just admitted in a national news article that they are violating ther Terms & Conditions of Facebook. You must be 13 in order to sign up for an account. Again, something they don’t need before 13.
And another example:
Alejandro Zamora, 13, an eighth grader, calls himself “a Facebook freak.” His mother, Olivia Montesdeoca, said she liked the idea of him using the computer (until it recently broke) but did not have much luck getting him to use it for homework.
“He’d have a fit. He’d have a tantrum,” she said, adding that she really did not understand some of what he did online. “I have no idea about YouTube. I’ve never even heard of a webcam.”
Guess what, Mrs. Montesdeoca – let him have a fit. He is 13 years old, if he throws a tantrum then treat him like the baby he’s acting like. It is real simple: you are the parent – he is the child.
At least one example was positive – the Ross family in Boston:
“If you just buy the computer and don’t guide them on the computer, of course it’s going to be misused,” Ms. Ross said.
Thought #3: Sure, new technology requires training and employing filters and other restrictions or learning how to see what your kids are (or have been) doing on the computer can be difficult to learn if you are not tech-savvy. But as stated above, there are simpler answers that probably get us to an 80% solution. For the rest, I question what the effectiveness of these digital literacy trainers will be. And how busy they will be. Of course, it’ll be more jobs “created or saved” but there is likely a better use of those funds.
Thought #4: Xbox 360s, Wiis, iTouch, etc. are not aimed at educational purposes. Closing the digital divide by providing entertainment systems clearly illustrates the failure of this idea. But as we examine this issue, we’ll get into the liberal argument that it isn’t “fair”. The proper response would be to ask, “how far do we need to go?” Do they need an XBox, cellphone with unlimited texting plans, a laptop and an iPad? Nope. And should we be using federal grant money or other funds for the underprivileged to get these types of devices? Nope.