Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat: Strategies for Solving the Real Parenting Problems

Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat: Strategies for Solving the Real Parenting Problems

by Naomi Schaefer Riley


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The tech giants of silicon valley design their products to hook even the most sophisticated adults. Imagine then, the influence these devices have on the developing minds of young people. Touted as tools of the future that kids must master to ensure a job in the new economy, they are in reality the culprits, stealing our children’s attention, making them anxious, agitated, and depressed.

What’s worse, schools across the country are going digital under the assumption that a tablet with a wi-fi connection is what’s lacking in our education system. Add to that the legion of dangers invited by unregulated access to the internet, and it becomes clear that our screen-saturated culture is eroding some of the most important aspects of childhood.

In Be the Parent, Please, former New York Post and Wall Street Journal writer Naomi Schaefer Riley draws from her experience as a mother of three and delves into the latest research on the harmful effects that excessive technology usage has on a child’s intellectual, social, and moral formation. Throughout each chapter, she backs up her discussion with “tough mommy tips”—realistic advice for parents who want to take back control from tech. 

With the alluring array of gadgets, apps, and utopian promises expanding by the day, engulfing more and more of our lives, Be the Parent, Please is both a wakeup call and an indispensable guide for parents who care about the healthy development of their children.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781599475547
Publisher: Templeton Press
Publication date: 01/07/2019
Edition description: 1
Pages: 268
Sales rank: 610,240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute focusing on issues regarding child welfare as well as a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. Her writings have appeared in theWall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and the Atlantic.

Read an Excerpt


What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us

On a summer afternoon recently, a friend and I started talking about screen time. Her boys, who ranged in age from ten to fourteen, were decent students. One was on a soccer team, two played musical instruments, and all enjoyed roaming around outdoors. But they really loved their computers. Their dad, a software engineer, had put together an elaborate desktop system for each child, complete with Mine-craft and other games. The day I was visiting her, my friend was in a constant low-level battle to get them away from their screens. It was like watching her swat flies. As soon as she sent one child outside or got one to read a book, another would sneak on to a computer.

There was nothing unusual about the frequency with which her kids were looking at a screen, at least when compared with other American kids. A 2015 survey commissioned by Common Sense Media found that tweens (ages eight to twelve) are spending five hours and twelve minutes per day consuming digital media (not including listening to music and using screens at school or for homework). Teens (ages thirteen to eighteen), meanwhile, are spending about eight hours and twenty minutes on digital media each day. A lot of parents are skeptical of these numbers when I reveal them, but other surveys have found the same thing. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation actually found that kids from eight to eighteen are consuming more than eight-and-a-half hours of media per day — including listening to music on a device.

But when parents stop to add it all up — the texting, the social media, the web surfing, the video games, the Netflix — they find the numbers less shocking. There is quite a bit of variation in these numbers. Teenagers whose parents had a college degree consumed slightly less than seven hours per day. Those from families with a higher income and who were white consumed less digital media than children from lower-income, less-educated minority homes.

But let's assume that teens with all of the advantages in life are still spending upward of five hours on screens each day. What does that mean? Laura Vanderkam, who writes books about the way we manage our time, is fond of saying: "Time is a choice; 'I don't have time' means 'it's not a priority.'"

When we think of all the things our kids don't seem to have a spare minute for — time to play outside, to see their friends, to read a book for pleasure, or to talk to a parent about their day — it is worth remembering that they are spending several hours a day watching videos, browsing websites, texting friends, and checking in on social media.

My friend was unsure about what could be done for her boys and their seemingly magnetic attraction to screens, or whether anything should be done. So she consulted her pediatrician: "How much time should my kids be online?" she asked.

"Well," he began, "there are no longitudinal studies on the effects of screen time so I really can't tell you."

It was an odd response, and not what she was expecting. But he is right. There are no studies of the long-term effects of what we now think of as screen time. It's weird to think that the iPad has only been around since 2010. There are studies of video games and studies of television, subjects to which we will return, but when it comes to social media, touchscreen technology, apps for small children, the effects of mobile devices on kids, or even texting, we don't have a good picture of how these things can alter learning, behavior, personality, or success in adulthood.

For some parents, perhaps that might bring a sense of comfort. Look, there's nothing to prove that technology is harming my child! But for most, it seems, the lack of information is only deepening the profound sense of unease that many parents have. It's the sense that we are all operating in the dark here.

Why did my friend ask her doctor about this subject? There was nothing ailing her children. They were exhibiting no signs of social problems or physical sickness. But parents don't know where to turn anymore for guidance about screen time.

In the fall of 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with new recommendations for kids and screen time. Children under eighteen months should completely avoid digital media, apart from Skype or apps that allow them to see and talk to Grandma in another state. Children from ages two to five should watch screens no more than an hour a day, which includes television programs, games on phones and tablets, and Netflix on the laptop. And even that hour should involve "coviewing," meaning parents should be sitting on the couch watching with their child.

For kids who are older, the AAP said that families had to set their own guidelines, but they made some priorities clear. Before kids look at a screen, they should have gone to school, done their homework, spent an hour doing some kind of physical activity, and socialized with family or friends. For young children, which the AAP recommends need between nine and twelve hours of sleep per day, this does not leave a lot of free time.

After the new recommendations appeared, a number of news outlets suggested that the AAP guidelines were now looser (because babies were allowed to Skype and some of the recommendations for older kids were left more to the discretion of families). "It doesn't make sense to make a blanket statement [for] screen time anymore," Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, a researcher at University of California Los Angeles and author of the new report, told CNN.

But truth be told, if parents actually adhered to these recommendations, kids would be in much better shape. If twelve-year-olds, who got home from school at three or four in the afternoon, were required to play outside for an hour, do homework for another hour or two, and have dinner with their families before they could even pick up a tablet or phone for a few hours at eight in the evening with a firm ten o'clock bedtime, our children's consumption of media would look a lot different than it does now.

Yet very few parents are going to take these recommendations to heart. It's possible that pediatricians telling new mothers that they should not sit their first child in front of a television screen for too long may affect behavior, but if they don't make a real commitment to limit technology, the forces pushing them to hand over the phone are simply going to overwhelm whatever initial advice they received — certainly by the time the next child arrives. If these doctors wanted to have any impact on parent behavior, they should have been a lot more forceful.

Pediatricians could be allies in a war that parents know they're fighting. Instead, these doctors seem to be as weak-willed as the mom down the street who gives her eight-year-old a phone as a birthday present. In the war between you and the circular from Target with all the new video games coming out in time for Christmas, these doctors aren't doing enough to strengthen the resolve of parents. And it wouldn't be that hard.

After all, there is no doubt that mothers and fathers across the country are deeply worried and confused about how often and in what ways their kids should be using technology. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician specializing in child development, recently tried to convene a focus group to see how parents were using technology with their kids. As Radesky remarks, the parents "treated this as support group instead. They thought it was so good to talk to other parents about this. They would say, 'I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how to deal with this.'"

Radesky tells me that parents "perceive a lack of control over managing technology." For the lower-income parents, she said it "feels like this is a wave of newness they don't know how to approach. They want to be a good parent and get all this tech stuff." For many parents in the group, says Radesky, giving their kids devices was a "status symbol." And while they "worried about addiction," there was a "real internal tension." They wanted "their kid to master the technology, but then it was something they didn't know how to control."

While we don't understand exactly how this technology is affecting our children's lives, we know that it is. As parents, we notice things — little changes in our children's attitudes, their sleeping habits, their ability to focus in school. We see shifts in the ways they talk to us and interact with their friends. And we want to understand what is behind these changes.

We have suspicions about what's going on because, honestly, we see these little differences in ourselves as well. We see how technology has made our lives both more convenient and more frenetic. We've seen how we are only half-involved in our conversations with other people. But we are much more accustomed to and perhaps comfortable with scrutinizing our children than ourselves — and so all this is easier to see in them.

Attentive parents have always tried to discern what is shifting their children's behavior and considered ways to fix it. Maybe they are eating too close to bedtime and having trouble falling asleep. Maybe their friends are teasing them so they don't want to go to school in the morning. Parents cannot solve everything that is wrong with their kids' lives, but until recently they had some sense of how different activities influenced them and what to try differently if things were going south. To be happy and healthy, most kids need to eat well, sleep well, exercise, get some intellectual stimulation, and have friends.

Technology is the X factor. Is it good or bad? Do our kids need it? Or do they just want it?

* * *

As parents, part of our unease comes from realizing that technology has made our children's lives fundamentally different from our own childhoods. And I don't mean some idyllic 1950s family. I mean the childhoods of people who are parenting today. What has changed? For those of us who were children in the 1970s or 1980s, screens were certainly available. Indeed, as kids we probably had more unsupervised access to television. Our parents gave us more freedom to be alone after school, and some kids used that freedom to watch TV.

But what did we watch? When I was eleven, I came home after school every day to an empty house by about two fifteen. With little homework and no supervision, the world was my oyster. And I proceeded to watch soap operas — specifically a show called Santa Barbara. Some of it was not appropriate; some of it went right over my head. The assumption of television executives and advertisers was that the only people watching television then were adults or toddlers at home with their mothers. I could have watched cartoons or even MTV, but this was an era when racy music videos were relegated to moments after my parents were home, and often after my bedtime.

Compare this to the array of options that a child home at this hour might have today. Whether your children have a penchant for rap videos, violent movies, or just tween sitcoms, there is something for everyone.

Video game systems certainly provided some after-school and weekend entertainment when I was younger. But is it even worth comparing Tetris and Mario Bros. to Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto? It's not only the content that seems foreign to thirty-and forty-something parents. It's also the time. How many of my friends spent more than a couple of hours a day on a Nintendo system or at an arcade? Today, your children could let an entire afternoon and most of the night go by playing Minecraft or something more disturbing if you didn't cut them off.

Kids are on screen for so much time, and we don't know what the effects are. Parents are hungry for guidance. Are they supposed to believe science writer Steven Johnson that Everything Bad Is Good for You? Will playing more video games give our children better hand-eye coordination and turn them into more skilled Air Force pilots? Or should they believe psychotherapist Nicholas Kardaras's opinion that Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids? Will being on the screen more turn our children into sickly drones whom we won't recognize in a few years?

Television is the easiest place to start answering the questions about the effects of screen time. The literature is vast, but after talking to numerous researchers, it's clear that something of a consensus has emerged.

Tim J. Smith is the principal investigator of the Tablet Project, a research center based at Birkbeck University and King's College London, which is devoted to studying the effects of touchscreen devices on the cognitive, brain, and social development of infants and toddlers. Before he began looking into the question of tablets, he had to understand what came before them.

"Because television has been around for sixty-plus years, there have been longitudinal studies." Smith notes that television "seems to have an independent contribution to various negative outcomes for children, including language delay, poor physical health and possible delinquency, and later criminal behavior." Many of the early studies conducted on television and children failed to account for certain factors associated with families that watch a significant amount of TV. In these families, children are less likely to be physically active, more likely to be eating food that's bad for them, less likely to have parents who speak to them a lot and in ways that develop their language, and more likely to be exposed to other factors that lead to delinquency. But the studies since then have controlled for these environmental factors. And now the impact is clear.

Research also suggests that it is not just time spent staring at a television that influences outcomes for kids. It's also television as background noise. Heather Kirkorian, who runs the Cognitive Development and Media Research Lab at the University of Wisconsin, has written a number of papers on the effects on children of television that is simply on in the home for several hours a day. Even if the mother is "watching the news while the baby is playing, we find generally negative effects. The kids are distracted from play and the parents are distracted from social interactions with their kids." Not surprisingly, Kirkorian tells me, she and her colleagues have found that "more hours of background television in the home negatively predicts cognitive abilities for kids at four years of age."

But what about the content? Large-scale longitudinal studies suggest that children who watch more violent television are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior as adults. A 1972 study followed children from age eight to age nineteen and controlled for the participants' initial aggressiveness, social class, and IQ. Among boys, watching a lot of TV violence at age eight predicted peer reports of violent behavior at age nineteen. A 2003 study of five hundred individuals over fifteen years followed children from the first or third grades into their early to mid-twenties. Controlling for variables like parental aggression as well as early IQ and social class, it found that heavy exposure to TV violence in childhood predicted increased self-reported physically aggressive behavior in adulthood for both boys and girls.

Just as there is evidence that watching violent television can lead to more aggressive behavior among some children, there is also evidence that this is the case for kids who play violent video games. A meta-analysis of research about video game violence included a dozen studies and 4,526 participants. Researchers found a small but positive relationship between the amount of time spent playing violent video games and later violent behavior.

None of this means that all or even most kids who watch violent television will behave violently. Indeed, as some experts point out, as our video games have become more violent, our society seems to have become less so. But those are overall trends. These studies suggest that excessive exposure to television violence makes violent behavior in individuals somewhat more likely.

Conversely, educational television can also have a mildly positive effect on children's development. Longitudinal studies suggest that exposure to programs like Sesame Street or Blue's Clues or Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood can aid children's development of vocabulary and social skills. Generally speaking, these effects were observed among kids in disadvantaged homes. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was better for them to be watching Sesame Street than to have little adult interaction or negative interactions with adults. One study even suggested that Sesame Street was a more effective intervention with these kids than the early childhood program Head Start.

But for these effects to be felt in any significant way, kids need to be watching these programs with adults who are interacting with them. In an article in the Journal of Children and Media, researchers at Texas Tech and the University of Oregon reported the results of a study on 127 preschoolers who watched episodes of the cartoon Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (a spin-off of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood). They found that watching the show "was associated with higher levels of empathy, but only for preschoolers" whose parents interacted with them in productive ways about the show.


Excerpted from "Be the Parent, Please"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Naomi Schaefer Riley.
Excerpted by permission of Templeton Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Screen Time 3

Chapter 1 What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us 7

Chapter 2 Babies Aren't Meant to Be Einsteins 35

Chapter 3 Are You Preparing Your Child for School or Las Vegas? 53

Chapter 4 Drop the Call-and the Phone While You Are at It 71

Chapter 5 The Price of Internet Access Is Eternal Vigilance 93

Chapter 6 Think American Education Can't Get Worse? Put iPads in the Classroom 123

Chapter 7 Just Say No 155

Chapter 8 Less Technology, More Independence 175

Conclusion 205

Postscript: The Tech-lash 225

Notes 231

Index 247

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Naomi Schafer Riley, Author Be The Parent, Please Templeton Press, ISBN 978-1-59947-482 Non-Fiction-self help, personal development, emotional intelligence, emotional education, parenting, technology 240 pages December 2017 Review for Bookpleasures Reviewer-Michelle Kaye Malsbury, BSBM, MM Review Are your children addicted to their phones, tablets, computers, or television? In today’s world that appears to be a common dilemma. As parents, is there anything you can do to change those dynamics? Let me show you what author, Naomi Schafer Riley, has to say about that in her books titled Be The Parent, Please. Schafer Riley opens chapter one with a conversation she was having with a friend over screen time and their children. She makes reference to a study conducted in 2015 by Common Sense Media where it was found that tweens, according to their study those are children aged 8 to 12, were spending as much as twelve hours each day on their computers, phones, or tablets and those between the ages of thirteen and eighteen spent eight hours and twenty minutes per day doing the same on average. (2017, paraphrase, p.7) Naomi states that many parents find these statistics uncomfortable and perhaps misconstrued. However, another study conducted in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation stated findings that were extremely close to these. So what does this mean? The single upside to this excessive time spent on digital media is that infants and toddlers who swiped screens had better motor coordination that those that did not. (2017, p.17) In over 217 studies on this topic conducted by Northwestern University and Temple University “people of all ages can improve all types of spatial skills through training, period,”. However, notes Schafer Riley those skills did not translate into anything meaningful in the real world. And according to Tim Smith, in the Tablet Project, “Students who got the console decreased academic performance and had more behavioral problems”. Schafer Riley cites a 2015 article that states “…even educational electronic toys may hinder children’s interactions with real people.” (2017, p.37) This was a comparative study that found that traditional toys paved the way for better quality conversations with more vocabulary and descriptive content. “…educational programs are positively associated with overall measures of achievement and potentially long lasting effects, while purely entertainment content, particularly violent content is negatively associated with academic achievement.” (p,42) Can the uptick in school shootings and violence have anything to do with the vast amount of violence that is depicted on television, in music videos, and in video games? Schafer Riley says that “When we hand over phones and tablets to children we are likely changing not only the information they can access but also their habits, personalities and their tastes.” (2017, p.91) Never before has information been so readily accessible. Smart phones and tablets have changed the way that children are educated and how they interact with others. Technology is truly a double edged sword and one that all parents ought to vigilant about dolling out to their children in proper doses. Naomi Schafer Riley makes a compelling argument in this book about excessive use of digital media for children. Can you as parents afford to look the other way? And if you do, at what peril?