Screaming over screen time

Debates with my Daughters

The wife has always been against it. Why, she asked, do eleven-year-olds need a smartphone? Children are easily distracted even without phones, and putting a device in their hands means that they’ll waste even more of their time and attention. She is a staunch believer in the idea of regular study hours and diligently doing homework. Every time I tell the children of the joys of last-minute preparation and life experience of going to school without having looked at the homework, she accuses me of being responsible for their grades. I do not disagree and accept the credit that is directed my way. 

My wife is also worried, a little, about the other risks that emanate from the internet — from cyber bullying to violation of privacy to interactions with mala fide strangers. But it is distraction and smartphone addiction that worries her the most. 

I have tried to persuade her that our children were born in the Information Age and will have to deal with a world where everyone is connected, immersed in social media, is being profiled by technology companies, spied on by half-a-dozen governments and at risk from various cyber threats. Introducing them to this world early will equip them to survive and succeed in the brave new world. Like riding a bicycle, swimming, skating and convincing an autorickshaw driver to take you where you want to go, it is a life skill that you should learn early, when failures are not too damaging.

I do not think she buys my arguments completely but found herself outvoted on the matter. So, the girls have phones and claim that they are unfairly blamed for being on the devices all the time when it is just coincidence that their parents notice them when they take a break from studies, reading or playing to look at the screen. My wife often complains that I do not notice how much time they are spending on their phones because I am lost in my own devices. 

More than the time they spend on the phone, I think what matters is, what they do on it. I hate speaking on the phone and consider anything longer than 90 seconds as intolerable. I hate it when the phone rings. I prefer messages, with the notifications turned off, so that I can respond when I want to. Both the girls disagree with this in principle, but I do not think they are engaged in extended phone conversations. Yes, I am aware that I could be very wrong.

From what I gather, Fairy is on ‘Insta’ and Airy tends to chat with her friends. They both devour music and have an unlimited amount of it, thanks to ‘Family Sharing’ on Apple. Like me, they are not into gaming. One of the things they enjoy is taking photographs and recording videos of them doing silly things. They follow YouTubers but were denied permission to start their own channel until they turned 18. For reasons of privacy. 

As parents, we were happy when Apple introduced ‘Screen Time’ that allows you to track and limit internet use across devices. We had serious negotiations over how much screen time they should be allowed. We settled for 90 minutes, albeit with a dissent note from the wife. Screen Time is not perfect, but it allows us parents a little more control over the kids’ online activities. It does not, however, match human genius. All too often, Airy comes up to me, in all sincerity, asking for more screen time so that she can finish important schoolwork. Much like our government that spends tax revenues on boondoggles like Air India, and then levies a cess for higher education and Swachh Bharat!

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