The Right Battle To Pick

There’s a ferocious debate happening right now among American parents with kids, especially those with teenagers. And it makes absolutely no sense. At least to me, a father of three teens.

It’s the argument whether or not to manage your teens devices/screen time. I know because some parents I talk with tell me that “this is not a battle I want to have with my kids”.

Wait, what?? I’m all for picking battles, but this is not the one to avoid.

Teaching your kids how to deal with digital consumption and manage their time is one of the most important skills you can give your children in the modern age. It’s right up there with eating a healthy diet, brushing and flossing daily, having good manners, and getting plenty of exercise.

Why? Because kids who can better manage their time around technology will be so much more prepared to thrive in the real world because they will know how to unplug and focus.

It’s strange to me that parents who wouldn’t think of letting their kids touch a sugary drink or eat a McDonald’s hamburger would allow them to watch endless YouTube videos, play video games for an entire afternoon, or stare for hours at their phone.

I firmly believe we’re going to look back someday and put screen time addiction in the same category as smoking cigarettes or eating junk food.

The fact is we’re facing an overconsumption challenge — not of the physical kind, but of the digital type. We are consuming way too many digital calories.

Human beings have developed a mechanism that alerts us when we’re full. Unfortunately, evolution hasn’t developed a mechanism that tells us when we’re over-consuming too much digital content — and tech companies are taking full advantage of this weakness.

And since technology appears to be advancing faster than our brains can evolve to process this information overload, we need to quickly develop new mechanisms to help us deal with digital overconsumption and endless digital distractions, which can lead to digital addiction. In short, we need to learn how to better manage our time.

We are consuming way too many digital calories

This skill is especially crucial for children to develop early on, while parents can still influence their viewing habits and before their attention spans get shorter than a goldfish’s.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

None other than Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said: “We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.

Cal Newton, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, says the ability to focus for a long time on a cognitively difficult task is the “killer app of the knowledge economy.

To put it bluntly, if you don’t teach your kids how to avoid digital distractions and manage their time they will fall behind their peers who can. Waiting until they’re teenagers to try to enforce good digital habits maybe too little, too late. And avoiding it all together with your teenagers is not doing them any favors.

We need to start thinking of digital distractions and digital overconsumption just like other dangers that we try to protect our kids from, like obesity, drugs, or irresponsible driving.

Bottom line, there shouldn’t be even one parent in the world who thinks it’s OK to have their kids spend hours every day staring at their smartphones.

The interesting thing is that modern-day parents obsess about everything. They feed their kids only organic foods. They’re giving them music lessons, sometimes while they’re still in the womb. They’re making sure they have tons of extra-curricular activities so they can pad their applications to the Ivy Leagues. But when it comes to enforcing healthy screen time, many parents are giving themselves a pass.

Why? Really it comes down to this: They don’t want to fight with their kids. They know that it’s going to be a battle to get their kids off their gadgets. So they just don’t want to deal with it.

They say: “I’m fighting with my kids about other things like homework; I just don’t want to fight with them about screen time as well.

But that’s a terrible reason not to help your kids deal with digital distraction. If your kids wanted to eat 5 slices of cake, you would say NO in a heartbeat. So why would you say YES to five hours of texting, video games, or YouTube videos? Good screen time habits are just as important as good eating habits!

This won’t win me any fans, but I’m going to say it anyway: Many parents are letting themselves off the hook too easily when it comes to managing screen time. We need to be very vigilant about this if we want to raise kids who can sit and focus on an activity for any length of time. Dealing with digital consumption and digital distraction is a critical, life-long skill that will help your kids in every aspect of their lives.

Don’t think about this as “screen time management” but as skills that are as important as learning to read and write. Time management and distraction avoidance are not optional. Not helping them acquire these skills will only hurt them down the road, in high school, in college, and later in life, at work and in their personal relationships.

Given the importance of learning how to avoid digital distraction and digital overconsumption, I’d love to know why parents just aren’t managing their kids screen time. Please take this super quick survey to let me know your reasons.

By Alon Shwartz, 
CEO & Co-founder of unGlue and a father of three 
unGlue is the world’s first collaborative technology that empowers people to manage their digital distraction and screen addiction