Editorial EdTech Tips Education K12

Isn’t Mobile Device Addiction A Parenting Problem?

device-addiction-top Isn't Mobile Device Addiction A Parenting Problem?Study Says Nearly Half Of Parents Worry Their Child Is Addicted To Mobile Devices

We have been very critical of Common Sense Media over the past month or so as the organization became very vocal in bringing their education campaign, “Truth About Tech” to the mainstream media. Tech addiction is a real thing. Studies are showing that many children are “addicted” to mobile devices but we’re on the fence as to whether it’s Common Sense’s place to be such a vocal advocate.

Common Sense, and their edtech arm Graphite, have done an amazing job of helping parents and teachers decide which mobile games, platforms, apps and other media is good for their children to watch. Since our own daughter was old enough to start consuming media, we’ve consulted Common Sense when, as parents, she would come to one of us and ask us if she could watch a program, a movie or download a game or app. Common Sense’s reviews are often chalk full of common sense.

Personally though and as the Content Director at an online publication that’s been covering edtech since 2011, I feel like Common Sense is sh*tting in their backyard by denouncing kids, screen time and tech in one breath and encouraging edtech companies to vie for their endorsement in another. I’m allowed to feel this way, it’s America after all.

But today, I want to hone in on the underlying problem, this tech addiction.

On Thursday, USA Today ran this piece: “Exclusive: Nearly Half Of Parents Worry Their Child Is Addicted To Mobile Device”. That’s what we’re after right? That’s why Common Sense is even taking this position. Is tech addition healthy, of course not, but is it Facebook, Twitter, or any edtech companies fault?

In many American homes, this mobile device addiction started at a nice restaurant that a set of parents took their three year old to. As the parents met up with their other friends at the restaurant, with baby in tow in the stroller, the baby began to get fussy. Dad, or mom, immediately went for a mobile device. It could have been dad’s phone, mom’s phone, an iPad or even a mobile device the parents bought for the child, because big fake plastic keys that rattle no longer does the trick. A cartoon, a YouTube video or a preschool game was put on that device and that cute little toddler is now gooing and gaaing at the content on the screen. That, is exactly where this problem started.

As the child got older, perhaps the parents bought them their own device. There’s really nothing wrong with this. One of the parents was probably on a mommy or daddy group on Facebook and heard about an amazing app like Tynker or YogoMe or any of the other thousands of educational apps out there. Now, on a long car ride, the child isn’t just amused and muted by a mobile device, but they’re learning something as well. This is exactly where the problem grew.

The child started getting older, maybe they found Minecraft, Animal Jam or Roblox and now they’re wanting to play it, all the time. These mobile games are great when it’s convenient for the parent and the kids addicted to technology when it’s not convenient for the parent.


The problem continued to grow at family dinner. Mom has her phone at the table, dad has his phone at the table, kid doesn’t want to be singled out so they too have their device at the table. One of the parents wants to have conversation but everyone else is heads down in a screen getting spaghetti sauce all over their device.

When I was 10 years old my favorite things were my bike, basketball, baseball cards and a HAM radio. If for some reason I came home for dinner excited, with a basketball in hand or listening to a broadcast on my portable HAM radio, one of my parents always reminded me to put whatever it was up before we came to dinner. My dad typically turned the ringer off, on the wall mounted kitchen phone and god help you if you rang the doorbell before desert was finished.  My parents did this because they were parents. I didn’t make the rules, they did. The rules continued for the rest of my 5 siblings.

Today all five of us have kids, and they’re all device age. Guess what, none of them bring devices to dinner. None of them talk back to us when it’s not time for devices, and none of us spank or hit our kids. We’re parents, their kids, we make the rules. Period. It’s not that hard.

My daughter (who happens to be an edtech reporter), earns screen time. She’s earned screen time since she was five and she’s ten now. This year she earns screen time in four primary ways. She can have equal screen time to the time she plays outside in one single day. If she plays outside for three hours, in the evening she can have three hours of screen time. Hours don’t roll over though and bedtime is steadfast at 9pm. She also earns screen time equal to how long she reads a book, with an hour minimum requirement. If she knows she’s trying to build a new world in Minecraft she sits in the family room and reads, sometimes for three hours. She can have bonus screen time for doing extra chores and/or if she does something really well with her school work. Although it’s rare, all of these can be quickly vetoed by myself or her mom, because again, we’re the parents, she’s the child, we make the rules.

Our daughter has to ask permission to get new apps, she doesn’t even have the password. Before she asks for a new app she needs to have any pros and cons worked out and she has to visit, you guessed it, Common Sense Media. There have been several times where she’s heard about an app or game online and went to Common Sense Media and found that there’s no way her mommy or daddy is going to let her download it.

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla should be responsible for the mobile device habits of just two kids in the entire universe, Max and August.

Unless Common Sense Media is all the sudden in the parenting business I personally feel they should continue to do what they do best, educate parents (and in our case kids) on the goods, the bads and the uglies of media.

Parents worried about their kids screen addiction should look inwards first and figure out how to solve it. It’s not rocket science. But there are some good rocket science apps in the app store.