Wednesday

The Briefing 09-13-17

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  • Research finding that sexual orientation can be revealed by a computer highlights dangers of Artificial Intelligence
  • Is a Utah judge preventing two men from having a biological child, or is it biology itself?
  • The Wall Street Journal asks if we are we richer than we think we are
Friday

The Briefing 08-18-17

· · · ·

  • Goodness of marriage, family, and work validated in ‘millennial success sequence’
  • Smartphones and happiness: The dangerous effects of screen time on adolescents
  • More time on the internet or less? Great Britain’s debate about technology, security, and health
Wednesday

The Briefing 08-09-17

· · · · ·

  • In the name of diversity, Google fires employee for not toeing the ideological party line
  • In Silicon Valley, quest for diversity does not extend to older workers
  • London Mayor intervenes to ensure survival of LGBT bar, make sure it is ‘sufficiently gay’

The Emergence of Digital Childhood — Is This Really Wise?

The easiest way to infuriate the young is to lean into nostalgia. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be nostalgic for a childhood in which the basic equipment for elementary school was pretty much limited to notebooks, pencils, and an occasional ruler. Those days are long gone.

Verizon Wireless recently released a national survey of parents. The study revealed that the average age at which parents give their children their first cell phone is 11.6. Do sixth graders really need a cell phone?

Well, hold on. The same survey indicated that ten percent of parents give their children a cell phone between the ages of 7 and 9. A recent Nielsen Company study indicated that the average age for a first phone in many families may be as low as 9.7.

Most parents said that safety is their concern. But how many 7-9 year-olds are waiting on the curb at the mall for mom to pick them up? Maybe I don’t want to know the answer to that question. In reality, few second-graders need a cell phone for safety in that sense. Something else is going on here, and the net result is that children are being pushed into the digital world at ever-earlier ages.

The Verizon survey also revealed that many parents fail to set any rules or protections for their offspring’s use of the cell phone. The danger of this is increased when it is realized that many of these cell phones are actually smart phones with advanced Internet access and access to social media. This effectively puts a miniature computer with unrestricted Web access in the hands of very young children.

There can be no doubt that we are all now living in a digital world. The digital revolution has wrought wonders and unparalleled access. But it has also brought unprecedented dangers — and those dangers are magnified when it comes to children and teenagers. This Verizon survey should serve as a wake-up call to parents and to all those who care for the coming generation. Childhood is being left in the dust of the digital transformation.

One final observation: When parents did set rules for how a child was to use a cell phone, the most common rule was that the child had to answer the phone when a parent called. Now, that rule makes sense.

Screen Test: The Danger of Digital Fixation

When it comes to the dangers of the digital age, most parents worry about what is on the screen of the computer. Recent research indicates that the screen itself just might be a very real danger.

Writing in The New York Times, physician Perri Klass warns that many parents are unaware of the risks posed by the digital screen. She tells of parents who tell the pediatrician that their child cannot have attention problems because he can watch a digital screen for hours on end. The child may have attention issues elsewhere, but not in front of a screen.

Dr. Klass writes:

In fact, a child’s ability to stay focused on a screen, though not anywhere else, is actually characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are complex behavioral and neurological connections linking screens and attention, and many experts believe that these children do spend more time playing video games and watching television than their peers.

Dr. Christopher Lucas of the New York University School of Medicine explains that the kind of attention demanded by the digital screen is very different from that required, for example, by a classroom or a book. The child in the classroom has to pay attention without immediate reward and learn to maintain that attention. When reading, a child has to supply the reward by means of imagination.

But, when focused on a digital screen, the child’s attention is rewarded by “frequent intermittent rewards” in the form of hormones released into the brain. The child may grow dependent on these rewards and lose the ability to maintain attentiveness without the pleasurable charges to the brain.

Dr. Klass admits that the research is not yet able to answer the question of which comes first — the dependence on the screen or the lack of attentiveness. Either way, the close association of the digital screen and the attention crisis is well documented.

This does not mean that parents should throw the computer (and other digital devices) out of the house, but it is a wake-up call that Christian parents should note with particular concern. For Christians the issue cannot be merely academic success in the classroom. We must be concerned with the means of grace that make for godliness in the life of the believer. The Christian should be a student of the Scriptures, and this requires the discipline of attentive reading. Attentive worship is another necessary discipline of the Christian life.

Are we creating a generation that cannot worship or read without the need for a dopamine release?

This research is important for us all. The digital revolution has brought wonders and opened new worlds. There is so much to celebrate and appreciate. At the same time, there are real dangers in these new technologies, especially for children. Parents must set and maintain boundaries for their children . . . and for themselves.

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