Be the Parent, Please


Naomi Schaefer Riley

Be the Parent, Please is about controlling children’s use of technology. While the author expresses a variety of concerns, this blog will be limited to the effects of technology on education. Technology has made many aspects of our lives easier, faster, and more efficient. There are useful applications of technology in education, but educators and parents can be misled into believing that technology will make all learning easier and faster. Ironically, acclimation to the ease of technology can make those things that require sustained time and effort seem even slower, further challenging students’ perseverance for tasks such as deep reading and writing.



While the effects of the changes in communication are debated, it is agreed that profound changes have taken place from the trivial to the Presidential. Technology has reduced face-to-face time and the use of the telephone. This can be more convenient, but it also eliminates important components of communication which may impoverish the message and make it more difficult to reach a consensus. Technology has changed how we spend our time and it has further confused the distinction between what is important and what is just immediate. “So much of our job as parents is helping kids to keep the events of their lives in perspective.”

Thank you for shopping face down

Adults need to be responsible for themselves, but they also need to remember that they are role models, more in what they do than in what they say. In speaking with parents about their child, it is sometimes obvious that they are being distracted by the device in their hand. When I send a child out of my room to talk with their parents, parents often hand them a device to keep them occupied. Perhaps time to think would be better than just being occupied to avoid possible boredom. The importance of time to think is easily overlooked.


Technology can be so insidious (everyone is doing it) that we may not realize that much of the use of technology is done by choice. Time is our most limited resource. What are we not doing when we are engaged with social media? Spending our time is like spending our money. It shows what we really value, not what we say that we value. When we look back at our day and week, are we pleased with how we have invested our time? Does it match our goals? Have we enhanced our life and the lives of those who are important to us? Are we attending to our health and wellness? Are we the role model that we intend to be?

If children and adolescents are always occupied, how do they learn who they are? How do they develop the patience and resilience that will be required for difficult tasks and challenging times? Technology fosters the illusion that everything is immediate and easy. “Devices are replacing actual human interaction while making us believe we are more connected to others.”



Although technology has the potential to expand vicarious experience, most uses tend to narrow perspective and focus on the self and there is a limit to the understanding that is possible to obtain without experience. It used to be that the photographer was rarely in the picture and we would wonder about people who promoted pictures of themselves. Now people take and post multiple pictures of themselves daily.


In the past, children would sometimes have a comic book or other book in their desk and it was recognized that the presence of this distraction interfered with their learning. School now is using the device which contains their distractions from their work. Even those who do not peek into today’s version of the comic book will be distracted by it.

The development of networks of people with similar interests is natural. Electronic networks, however, provide even more isolation from other views than networks of the past. In a world that is becoming increasingly international, fostering increased bias, perceived exceptionalism, and anger will be detrimental.

“Howard Gardner and Kate Davis write, ‘Individuals generate new ideas by reflecting on the world that surrounds them. Reflection requires attention and time (counterintuitive as it may initially seem, boredom has long been a powerful stimulator of the imagination), two things that are hard to come by in today’s media-saturated world.’”

“Larry Cuban, Stanford University education professor, has been looking at the question of technology in the classroom for three decades. He tells me, ‘I can say pretty categorically that there is no evidence that the use of devices and software will improve academic achievement of students.’” “Multiple experiments have shown that readers simply do not gain the same level of comprehension reading on a screen that they do on a page.”

Many argue that you do not have to learn things that you can look up quickly. This is true if you are looking up a name or specific date which you have forgotten, but you cannot solve problems if you have not assimilated the relevant information. Problem solving requires considering multiple pieces of information simultaneously. This is more than data. We need to develop and use working memory to handle these challenges.

As I questioned in a recent blog, Reflections on Electronics, what is it that children need to learn that they can learn as well or better electronically; respect, manners, delayed gratification, socialization, family values, reading body language, physical wellness? “It is one of the little remarked ironies of our age that childhood obesity has skyrocketed at the same time as kids’ participation in organized sport has reached its zenith.” Devices further reduce the time that children have for unstructured play.

One of life’s responsibilities that technology has not made easier is parenting.


Vision and Learning: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

Not ALL Screen Time IS Equal: Reflections and Perspectives on the Use of Electronics

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? by Jean M. Twenge

The Power of Play