Book Review: The Art of Screen Time, by Anya Kamenetz
Other Good Things
Anya Kamenetz has written, what we believe to be, the definitive text for families concerned about the role technology plays in the life of their children. Her excellent new book, The Art of Screen Time, offers, in her very own words, a “clear, deeply researched, and nonjudgmental take on an issue that faces nearly every parent today.”
Her basic message is a heartfelt call to look at the research together, and for parents to then make their own informed decisions, a sentiment which really resonated with us.
In a cultural climate that is often quick to jump to conclusions as to the perceived value or harm of children using technology, Anya has done a remarkable job of presenting the facts. Not only has she done the research, she’s organized it in an orderly, informative, and explanatory way. More than anything, however, and we really want to stress this point, Anya showcases the information in a manner that leaves the decision, as to whether technology should be used in the household, up to the reader.
The Art of Screen Time blazes through the “tired tropes” presented by “traditional authorities” by dispelling folklore through science and offering up the existing research for further examination. As Anya rightly notes, “The last major piece of Federally funded research on children and media in the United States was titled ‘Television and Behavior’. It was published by the National Institutes of Mental Health. In 1982.”
“ The last major piece of Federally funded research on children and media in the United States was titled ‘Television and Behavior’. It was published by the National Institutes of Mental Health. In 1982. ”
With astounding perspective and from the very start, Anya takes us on a journalistic journey, grounding us in an original inquiry:
“How worried should we really be about kids and tech?”
As a parent herself, she enters the conversation, not with ready-made answers, but with a genuine concern and a veritable sense of curiosity, a curiosity readers will immediately recognize in themselves.
Anya senses the anxiety in the air, our general techno-social zeitgeist, and seeks to understand the etiology of our concerns by asking, how can we have a reasonable conversation about this complicated issue? At one point, she even extends these concerns to herself, wondering what effects social media will have on us, as adults. Her answer is always the same: let’s look at the facts, survey the available information, and continue to ask the hard questions.
“My takeaway from all this,” she writes, “is that raising kids away from all screen media is impractical if not impossible. And there’s no way to have perfect foresight about the impacts of our choices.”
“ My takeaway from all this is that raising kids away from all screen media is impractical if not impossible. And there’s no way to have perfect foresight about the impacts of our choices. ”
While some may disagree with this hypothesis from the outset, and even call the title itself into question, Anya continues, with her defiant tone of commonsense, “While researchers lobby for more funding and clinicians try to give better advice, the best we can do as parents right now is share information, watch for danger signs, and rely on enduring values.”
Anya’s perspective, captured so eloquently in the above quote, is written from that that of a fellow parent, a parent on a journey, wishing only the best for her children. We’re in this together, she inspires. We need to stay vigilant, be reasonable, and enter into productive conversations. We mustn’t rush to judgement. Instead, we must work to understand.
For those less interested in a philosophical approach, and more keen to adopt a systematic analysis, Anya offers a practical guide.
Her three-pronged outline of things to watch for is extremely helpful for highlighting this complex issue:
- Look for evidence of harms related to proven risks. Examples here include obesity, sleep, aggression, and addiction. Are you noticing changes in behavior? Keep a close eye on your child and observe their interactions. Is technology starting to get in the way of a healthy lifestyle?
- Explore your own feelings about where media fits into your family? How do you feel about media? Are a few episodes of a show each week appropriate? Do you have strong inclinations that dinner time should be reserved for conversations instead of technology? How do you feel about your children reading on devices late at night?
- Hash out your own use of screens. An important point to consider is what type of environment do you want to provide for your child? At the end of the day, the parent is the exemplary role model, so choose how you interact with media in a way that you wish your children to do as well.
What we appreciate most about The Art of Screen Time, perhaps more than anything else, is Anya’s keen ability to effectively and honestly communicate directly with those who need this book the most: the parents who are asking the hard questions. With a certain, profound level-headedness, Anya does a marvelous job of bringing practicality and humanity to a conversation that is often lacking both – to the extreme.
With all of that said, our best advice, following Anya, is to read The Art of Screen Time, start conversations with fellow parents and educators, take it all in, and see what works best for your family.
Note: A special thanks to Anya for sending us an advance copy of The Art of Screen Time. You can order it now.
Written by:Bobby George