May 17, 2023
Written by 
Christie Pang

#BigTech vs. Child Development - can they coexist?

Part Two: Slay or Train the Dragon?

A Trilogy on how AI Is About to Upend Teaching and Learning

Big Tech... “putting profits over kids’ safety online.”Algorithms have “exploited the vulnerable brains of youth.”

How has it been allowed to get this bad?

Whether you are a Silky parent or a Crunchy mom (look it up - I’m a scrunchie), everyone has a view about screen-time, mobile games, social media, and streaming platforms for kids.

In a March 2023 law suit filed against TikTok, Snap, Meta, YouTube, and Google, school districts are alleging that BigTech uses manipulative algorithms and addictive platform design to hook students into positive feedback loops that destroy mental health.

While many say drastic times call for drastic measures, others take a more balanced approach.

A quick poll before reading on

At this point in your life, are you Team Slay (get tech as far from kids as possible), or Team Train (tech can be a friend and not a foe)?

Let’s weigh the evidence.

First, there are screens in general...

Screen-shaming has been real since TVs entered homes. Screen-time for infants 0-2yo has been linked with lower executive function (the “function” that determines academic success), but experts say screens could be a net-positive for the family by having an enforced time limit based on age, quality programming, physical movement breaks, and a co-viewing caregiver. See evidence-based guidance from the APA, the WHO, and the OECD.

Then, there’s on-demand streaming.

From the days of waiting after school for Sesame Street to roll around, to streaming Daniel Tiger and Bluey on-demand via PBS, Disney+, and YT Kids, families no longer need to shield their kids’ eyes against ads and unwanted material. Coupled with experts like those at Common Sense Media who champion for shows with positive messaging, educational value, and diversity on-screen, there are plenty of quality screen-time options and guardrails for families (the new QT!).

What about social media?

When we talk about screen-time and teens, one has to mention social media. Starting as early as 11 years old, 92% of teens are active on them. Girls in particular average 2hrs daily on a platform (!) - made possible mainly via mobile devices. It took TikTok just 9 months to reach 100 million users globally from launch. While dubbed “social” media with potential to help children and adolescents feel more connected to peers, it doesn’t seem to do much good in terms of social-emotional intelligence. Quite the contrary, there is strong association between social media use and adolescent depression and anxiety.

Finally, there’s ChatGPT

If you think TikTok’s speed of adoption was quick, think again. The latest wave of technological advancement in AI - namely “ChatGPT” - took only 2 months to reach 100 million users globally (the internet took 7 years!). In May 2023, Common Sense Media found that 58% of students aged 12–18 have used GPT (compared to just 30% among parents). Khan Academy, GoNoodle, and Duolingo have products that are “powered by GPT” now. There are officially more kids than adults that have used the AI tool. ...and most kids are using the tool without their parents’ or teachers’ knowledge.

The Dragon has only gotten larger, faster and more powerful. As parents, we’ve got to ask ourselves:

What are the rules? Who’s making the guardrails? How can we train this Dragon?

Stay tuned for Part III: Not a Finale, but The Future...