As Generation Z struggles to put down their devices, parents and nonprofit organizations examine technology’s impact on childrens’ social and emotional health.
The Truth about Tech Campaign, backed by the advocacy group Common Sense Media and the Center for Humane Technology, a non-profit, launched on Feb. 7 with the focus of technology addiction and children’s development. They aim to create new standards for tech giants currently targeting kids, according to USA Today.
James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, expressed concern about tech companies’ actions in a press release. “Their business models often encourage them to do whatever they can to grab attention and data and then to worry about the consequences later, even though those very same consequences may at times hurt the social, emotional, and cognitive development of kids,” Steyer said.
Kaitlyn Thomas, freshman elementary education major at John Brown University, has seen technology addiction impact her 10-year-old brother’s attention span. “When we’re facetiming, he’ll be watching TV or watching Netflix on the Xbox, and I’ll be like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to talk to you. Get off. Pause it for twenty minutes,’” Thomas said.
While Thomas supports the Truth about Tech Campaign, she argues that technology companies are targeting everyone, not just children. “There are games for everyone. My grandmother, before she passed away, was addicted to Facebook, social media apps, and games through social media apps,” Thomas said. “I don’t think it’s just a specific age, but I think everyone gets addicted to it, whether they’re four years old or 94.”
Barna Group, a research organization examining the intersections of faith and culture, defines Generation Z as those born from 1999 to 2015. Barna partnered with Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family, and found that children spend around five hours per day on electronic devices. Their co-authored report on technology in the home stated that 60 percent of parents limit their child’s usage, but “limiting time seems more popular than eliminating the devices.”
Trisha Posey, assistant professor of history at JBU, finds the simplest way to limit her three children’s device usage is by not having internet at their home. Her family sees danger in unlimited internet access. “The internet does come with some dangers – easy access to destructive material and the temptation to go online all the time rather than do something more productive,” Posey said.
Posey agrees with Crouch and Barna’s research about the seriousness of regulating a child’s time with technology. “I think regulating the use of technology and fasting regularly from technology are important,” Posey said. “I love Andy Crouch’s idea of taking a break from technology for one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year. I talk a lot about the importance of attentiveness in my Gateway class—it’s hard to be attentive when one is constantly distracted by a device.”
With three young children, Jason Beschta, head coach of JBU’s men’s basketball team, sets time boundaries for his family to promote a healthy lifestyle. “While it can provide an awful lot of benefits, at the same time you have to be careful. I have to set parameters like ‘Alright I’ve got to leave [my phone] there, at the front door when I get home, or else I’m going to want to check to answer every text as I get it or every email as I get it,’” Beschta said.
As a coach, Beschta has worked to combat the effects of students addicted to their devices. “When we’re going to be eating a pre-game meal on the road, as a team, at a restaurant, we tend to have the guys leave their phones on the bus. It forces them to interact with each other, which is great.” Beschta said, “As soon as we let them have their phones, their heads are going to be in their phones.