Earlier this month, Maryland passed legislation that, if signed by its governor, would require state education officials to develop health and safety practices for digital device usage in schools.
For some parents and educators, this bill could help soothe their anxieties about growing digital usage in their children’s daily lives. But it also overestimates the ubiquitous nature of our digital world; if a law ensures a child is limited in their computer hours at school, that doesn’t necessarily mean their habits at home will be monitored. These limitations are a Band-aid solution to growing parental concerns as education has rapidly become steeped in technology. Now, even state-standardized tests are being administered electronically.
Restrictions on technological use in schools, which imply that these devices are harmful, could also affect children from low-income backgrounds, whose parents aren’t familiar with digital devices and whose technological literacy is almost entirely taught in schools.
Instead of enforcing hard and fast rules on usage, schools and state officials should work to improve educational curricula so they aren’t as rooted in technology, and encourage moderation in digital use.
Of course, children should still be taught digital literacy, the basics of surfing the web to find accurate information, the harmful effects of cyberbullying and many more prevalent digital topics. But imposing time restraints on digital usage only serves to create a negative connotation surrounding these tools, which, if used correctly, could actually enrich children’s educational experiences.
Extreme digital use could have a harmful effect on a child’s health, but what many parents and officials fail to realize is that time spent online isn’t necessarily counterproductive or non-educational. Khan Academy, TED Talks and Crash Course are a handful of thousands of platforms that serve as knowledgeable resources for school-aged children and students in general. Tumblr and Reddit are also public forums that initiate thought-provoking discussions on a variety of topics that are beneficial not only to children, but also to adults.
Another aspect to consider in monitoring young people’s digital behavior is adults’ behaviors. If adults spend most of their free time with their necks craned over an iPhone, this behavior becomes normalized for children to mimc.
I grew up with two immigrant parents who only recently purchased smartphones last year, but it was out of sheer curiosity that I became the most technologically literate member of our household. And for many children, curiosity is what drives them to go online, especially if they see many adults exhibiting similar behaviors.
Maryland’s upcoming legislation, and the debate over if and how schools should regulate children’s computer time, is only going to create a new set of rules children will want to break. There has been a recent push to teach kids programming skills, and technological literacy is touted as a necessary skill in the 21st century. As understanding digital tools becomes increasingly important, even within the classroom, it would be difficult to impose these regulations without overstepping boundaries in dictating how children should behave — at school and at home.
Terry Nguyen is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the features editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Digitally Yours,” ran every other Tuesday.