Thu, Sep 06, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Growing up digital: now and then

A look at parental concerns about technology back to the age of radio and dime novels

AP, NEW YORK

By the end of that decade, Congress had authorized US$1 million (about US$7 million today) to study the effects of TV violence, prompting “literally thousands of projects”’ in subsequent years, Cassidy said.

That eventually led the American Academy of Pediatrics to adopt, in 1984, its first recommendation that parents limit their kids’ exposure to technology. The medical association argued that television sent unrealistic messages around drugs and alcohol, could lead to obesity and might fuel violence. Fifteen years later, in 1999, it issued its now-infamous edict that kids under 2 should not watch any television at all.

The spark for that decision was the British kids’ show Teletubbies, which featured cavorting humanoids with TVs embedded in their abdomens. But the odd TV-within-the-TV-beings conceit of the show wasn’t the problem — it was the “gibberish” the Teletubbies directed at preverbal kids whom doctors thought should be learning to speak from their parents, said Donald Shifrin, a University of Washington pediatrician and former chair of the AAP committee that pushed for the recommendation.

GAMING CONCERNS

Video games presented a different challenge. Decades of study have failed to validate the most prevalent fear, that violent games encourage violent behavior. But from the moment the games emerged as a cultural force in the early 1980s, parents fretted about the way kids could lose themselves in games as simple and repetitive as Pac-Man, Asteroids and Space Invaders.

Some cities sought to restrict the spread of arcades; Mesquite, Texas, for instance, insisted that the under-17 set required parental supervision . Many parents imagined the arcades where many teenagers played video games “as dens of vice, of illicit trade in drugs and sex” Michael Newman, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee media historian, wrote recently in Smithsonian.

This time, some experts were more sympathetic to kids. Games could relieve anxiety and fed the age-old desire of kids to “be totally absorbed in an activity where they are out on an edge and can’t think of anything else,” Robert Millman, an addiction specialist at the New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical Center, told The New York Times in 1981. He cast them as benign alternatives to gambling and “glue sniffing.”

Initially, the Internet — touted as an “information superhighway” that could connect kids to the world’s knowledge — got a similar pass for helping with homework and research. Yet as the internet began linking people together, often in ways that connected previously isolated people, familiar concerns soon resurfaced.

Sheila Azzara, a grandmother of 12 in Fallbrook, California, remembers learning about AOL chatrooms in the early 1990s and finding them “kind of a hostile place.” Teens with more permissive parents who came of age in the 1990s might remember these chatrooms as places a 17-year-old girl could pretend to be a 40-year-old man (and vice versa), and talk about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (or more mundane topics such as current events).

Azzara still did not worry too much about technology’s effects on her children. Cellphones were not in common use, and computers — if families had them —were usually set up in the living room. But she, too, worries about her grandkids.

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