Have you ever seen the British TV show “Black Mirror”? It’s a dark science fiction series (not family friendly), that examines modern society by looking at the unpredictable consequences of new technologies. Charlie Brooker created these satirical stories to highlight topics related to humanity’s dependence on technology and how it can negatively affect our near future. What I like most is that Brooker doesn’t neglect to talk about kids, at a time when children’s connection to smartphones, tablets and other devices is stronger than ever.
The dark tone of every episode instills us with a foreboding sense of the ease with which technology can influence every area of our lives, including our parenting. After watching these thought-provoking scenes, you’re hardly likely to ask yourself whether it’s good to give a device to your child or not. Instead you’ll be more likely to think about how to prevent device addiction and give your kid a happy childhood. Nowadays however, parents need to learn how to live in a world that is inseparable from screens..
Why this plot is crucial
As the mom of a 4-year-old daughter I would recommend all parents to watch the episode of “Black Mirror” called “Arkangel”, the first one to have a strong emphasis on family. In the story, “Arkangel” is the name of an implanted chip technology that allows parents to track and monitor their children, as well as pixelate images that would cause them distress. At first, it might bring to mind modern parental control software, but there’s more to it than that. To help me explain, let me give you a brief overview of the plot.
Single mother Marie has a daughter named Sara. The little girl goes missing one day, chasing a cat near the playground. Marie panics, but finds her girl shortly without incident. This leads her to implant Sara with Arkangel, an implant, which enables her to monitor the child’s geolocation and medical state, and control everything the child sees with the help of a tablet computer. At first it seems to be effective but it becomes a dangerous hindrance.
The story shows the chip destroying the relationship between mother and daughter and leading to a highly dysfunctional, even violent dynamic, despite starting from a natural parental desire to protect. Why might this happen? This is a very important question for me, as a parent, who uses a parental control app. But despite some apparent similarities I don’t think parental control apps are the nightmare tools of Brookers dystopia. In fact, I think this story can provide us with a great starting point for exploring what effective parental controls can and do really look like for the next generation of users.
Technology is not guilty. Marie is guilty
First of all, every viewer should know, that hyperbolising is the main feature of drama. Science fiction remains fiction. Real life can and will write another script. Secondly, while seatbelts seem to limit the drivers’ movement and freedom it also saves people’s lives.
Parents are those people who are responsible for the well-being and safety of their kids in the real and online world. On top of these responsibilities should lie healthy relationships between parents and children. The character Marie in Arkangel lied to her daughter from the very beginning, didn’t use the technology to teach good habits, modelled bad habits herself and ultimately abused her power over her daughter.
Parental controls are a tool. If they’re well made they can be a powerful tool. And like all powerful tools they can be used responsibly to create a good outcome or irresponsibly to create a bad outcome. In the story, hyperbole and dramatic license are used to take irresponsible parental control use to a dangerous extreme that in practice we just don’t see. Still, we can learn how to apply good practices to our parental control use to ensure even better outcomes.
The issue of “digital education” for children has proved to be one of those hot topics that divide parents into two opposed camps: one urges “for”, others are radically “against”. Moreover, such a “war” exists not only between parents, but also between experts, who give very controversial, and often completely opposite recommendations on the “proper use” of technology by children.
This situation leads to only one conclusion: digital education is necessary for both children and parents. The latest UNICEF “UReport” informs that a potential source of abuse of children’s data comes from their own parents. The survey found that 81 percent of children under age 2 in 10 high-income countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States) had a digital footprint, meaning that they had a profile or images of them posted online.
Parents should provide a good example for kids about how to deal with devices. In Arkangel, the mother made many mistakes, including indulging in an unhealthy screen addiction of her own and some excessive helicopter parenting. Most of all though she needed to be open with her child about the information she had, the methods she was using and her reasons for using them. Discussion with kids about the effects of screen time and the reasons why you choose to place a limit (perhaps with the help of parental control app) are crucial to helping them build good habits of their own, which is ultimately our goal.
More and more research is being done into the effects of screen time and as more and more data becomes available expert groups around the world release and update new policies and guidelines to help us understand what’s best for our kids.
The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) was the first, promoting the rule of “2×2”: “No screens for children up to two years old and no more than two hours with digital media for older children”. This rule was developed in a time primarily concerned with TV screen use. Today the consensus is that “screens are different”, i.e. rules suitable for limiting passive television viewing are not so relevant to the era of interactive tablets, smartphones, and computers.
A new version of AAP recommendations for preschoolers, released in October 2016, is no longer so categorical and unambiguous. The age requirement has plummeted from 24 to 18 months and video chat with relatives is allowed without reservations from the very moment of birth.
For children from 2 to 5 years of age, it is recommended to spend no more than one hour per day with a tablet, while parents are obliged to be very careful to fill the tablet – to choose applications and games with high production values and if possible genuinely educational content, according to the child’s age.
The guidelines for schoolchildren and teenagers say only that: “Parents should set a strict time limit for their child with digital devices.” It is not said what limits, so apparently at their own discretion. In this case, make sure that at least one hour per day the child is engaged in physical activity, does not get stuck on the screen during meals, and has at least an hour of “retreat” with all devices turned off before bed in order not to harm healthy sleep.
In addition to these recommendations, AAP offers each family to agree on a so-called “Family Media Plan“. It is so-called rules of conduct with devices: to indicate places in the house free of screens; to discuss situations suitable / not suitable for digital media; to promise each other to spend time together more often; not to abuse devices for entertainment and so on.
Not limits, but possibilities
The concept of “screen time” is very abstract and ambiguous, because it can be both harmful to the child’s activity, and useful. Parents need more qualitative public organizations like Common Sense Media (USA) or Parent Zone (UK) to appear. Such resources ought to be saved in the bookmarks and regularly checked by modern dads and moms. Secondly, they also offer practical tips, collections of useful apps, games, articles, and stories of real families about how to raise children in the Digital Era. And choose to prioritise being a friend to your child. Grow together in digital education and don’t forget to tell your child, why you’ve decided to use Kidslox. Safety is our first consideration. Be a modern parent. And draw the line between offline and online, especially for yourself.