Book encourages parents to guide children’s technology use

A professor’s book claims modern parenting calls for helping kids better navigate technology.

Jordan Shapiro, an Intellectual Heritage professor, wrote a book advocating for parents to introduce more technology to their children at younger ages. | ALEXIS ROGERS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Parents today face tough questions about technology.

How much screen time is too much for my child? When should I let my child start using a phone or tablet? Will screens affect my child’s brain?

So how do parents raise children to properly navigate society in a world of screens?

To answer these questions, Jordan Shapiro, an Intellectual Heritage professor, released “The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World,” a book available on Amazon that argues restricting screen time isn’t the answer. 

In the book, which was published Dec. 31, 2018 by Little, Brown Spark, Shapiro argues parents should wade into the technology world with their children and spend time with kids and their screens, together.

“I probably have all the same concerns about smartphones as everyone else,” Shapiro said. “I see both the awesome benefits and the negatives. That’s just life.”

Only 31 percent of teenagers think social media has mostly positive effects, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center. Additionally, the center found more than half of teens think they have too much screen time on their phones and more than 65 percent of parents express concerns about their kids’ technology use. 

When his two sons, now 11 and 13, were younger, Shapiro wanted to make sure he was spending time with them doing things they enjoyed. In the Shapiro household, that meant playing video games.

“You can’t walk up to a kid and be like, ‘I want to spend time with you, so stop playing video games and let’s take a hike,’” Shapiro said. “That would be like a punishment. So I was like, ‘I guess I have to go play video games with them.’”

Carol Brandt, an early childhood education professor, said the current generation — nicknamed the “iGeneration” — is raised differently than how she was brought up. Brandt spent her youth in the 1960s and 70s reading stacks of books, and enjoyed the conversations with her parents about the plots and characters.

“I was a bookworm … but what I found really helpful was for the adults in my life, to draw me out and to have conversations about and to talk about them,” Brandt said. 

Shapiro argues phones and tablets aren’t going anywhere soon, so parents should learn to raise their children alongside technology. They can do this by letting children join social media at younger ages while guiding them on safe practices, social media etiquette and knowing when they’ve had enough technology for one day.

Shapiro writes that parents should play video games with kids and help them learn to use technology to navigate in a connected world. The issue doesn’t lie in screen use, but how parents interact with kids and technology, he said.

Many parents don’t guide children through technology usage, but they get upset when their kids don’t know when to put devices down, Shapiro said. 

“You learn so much about how to interact with people by just watching your parents,” Shapiro said. “And with technology we’re like, ‘That’s something you should do alone without your parents.’ And then we’re upset that [children] don’t know how to manage it.”

Jean Boyer, an early childhood education professor, said limiting screen time has its benefits but agreed parents should guide children through using smartphones and tablets like they would other technology, like kitchen appliances and cars.

“I still endorse limiting that time because you will never get it back,” Boyer said. “However, I’m also in full agreement that this is a role that caregivers and families need to play, which is induction into this part of the culture.”

Shapiro said overall feedback on his book has been positive, but has come with critiques, like that technology is harmful to child development. 

For Shapiro, the focus was on good parenting in today’s technological world.

“If I were to speculate about why it’s not selling as well as I want to, my speculation is that it’s not picking a side,” he said. “Screens can be really dangerous if we don’t parent right. Otherwise, if we parent right, then they’re actually probably really good for your kids.”

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