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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Screens and Teens" (Kathy Koch)

TITLE: Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World
AUTHOR: Kathy Koch
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (256 pages).

Technology is everywhere. People are constantly connected whether they are traveling, in school, at work, in restaurants, or at home. Like it or not, it is a big part of our lives. From TV to the Internet, cellphones to tablets, wired computers to wireless mobile digital devices, people's lifestyles are increasingly defined and influenced by the technology at hand. How are we affected? What has technology got to do with our "core needs of security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence?" Or is technology increasingly usurping the role of "parenting" us?

The key concern in this book is about how technology is influencing the beliefs and behaviours of teens, and how parents can connect with the young people. The author believes that the young feels the impact more, knowingly or unknowingly. The startling observation will grab some attention. Technology's strengths are "fast, cheap, effective, and cool. The same four factors are also technology's weaknesses. That is because technology itself is a poor substitute for people's basic needs of "security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence." Biblical wisdom is our guide, that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.

Going to the neurological plane, Koch argues that both technology and culture are changing our brains. Like muscles that strengthen over use, our brains will be affected with constant use of technology. Koch asks:
"Is it their impatience? Their multi-tasking that you interpret as rude? Entitlement atttudes? Not enough sleep? Complaining? Academic apathy? Quick boredom? Believe it or not, it’s not their fault they are that way." (35)
She asks about the things that are nurturing us. She reminds readers about the differences between the old and the young. The difference is that the young is growing up with technology as their norm. Five key truths about teens are:
  1. Teens' tend to have relationship-based beliefs | (Adults tend to have "belief-based" relationships)
  2. Teens want to change the world | (Adults sometimes marvel at the young people's drive and energy. In turn they become too pragmatic/negative about the youths' idealism)
  3. Teens are Creative, Innovative, and Entrepreneurial | (Adults tend to reject them)
  4. Teens ' security is in Technology | (Adults tend to be more suspicious of technology)
  5. Teens are Tech-Addicted, Tired, Stressed, Overwhelmed, Depressed, and Escaping | (Adults can be overwhelmed too by information overload)
Koch's work echoes Sherry Turkle's concern that, "Technology doesn’t just do things for us. It
does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are." She shares Chapman's and Pellicane's ABC system in evaluating a child (Attitude, Behavior, Character). She goes on to talk about how technology use can be better managed and education as follows.
  • Less is more
  • Learn to model appropriate technology use
  • Give more time to face-to-face communications
  • Have Tech-free tables in restaurants, playrooms, or public places
  • Celebrate boredom in such a way that it is ok not to do anything
  • Celebrate play
  • Be thankful
After setting some ground tips, Koch goes on the offensive against five lies that teens believe whether consciously or unconsciously.
  1. Lie #1 - I am the Center of the Universe
  2. Lie #2 - I Deserve to be Happy All the Time
  3. Lie #3 - I Must Have Choices
  4. Lie #4 - I am my Own Authority
  5. Lie #5 - Information is All I Need So I Don't Need Teachers
At the beginning, I was wondering if Kathy Koch was being unfairly critical of technology. Having read Albert Borgmann, Jacques Ellul, Neil Postman, and to some extent, Sherry Turkle, I know how technologies can threaten real life relationships. Perhaps, it is the way that Koch phrases her warnings that made me suspect an overly simplistic critique of the technological devices of our age. This is especially so when it comes to the five lies that was pointed out. One has to read her reasoning behind her statements before making any judgment. Having read her rationale, I must say most of her warnings do make sense. Many of Koch's observations are true. I like particularly her practical advice about how to carve out time intentionally to ensure digital gadgets do not dominate our entire lives.

Personally, I believe that this book require some updating as teenage interests change very quickly. With every two years, this book will become more and more dated, even irrelevant. For example, Facebook and Twitter are no longer as popular as some of the latest viral apps, like SnapChat and Instagram. With privacy concerns increasingly valued, young people want to be free to share but also be able to limit what people see. The world of digital apps are changing faster than books being published. I would recommend that this book be supplemented by a web resource. There are many things that will be applicable for a long time, such as relationship building and communication skills. Other things like technology platforms and fads will fade away. Overall, this book is a good attempt to highly the importance of setting aside some intentional down time for our digital gadgets. We are humans, not machines. Thus, a 24x7 always-on environment is not for us. This particular video drives home the need to protect our children from unlimited digital exposure. A picture video speaks a thousand words, to make room for play. For Christians, make room also for prayer.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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