Conversation: Kids & Screens

January 10, 2019

A Philadelphia mother of twin tweens talks with her girls about a recent school assignment they’ve been given to debate whether screens are good or bad for young people. With varying degrees of success, LaKeysha tries to take a backseat as Chanel and Ebony square off on both sides of the issue.

LaKeysha: You know you both could have taken the side of your phones being the devil, right?

Chanel, 12: (Rolling eyes) Mom: you bought us our phones—and you seem to looooove yours, so why do you think it’s time to get all judgey all of a sudden. Ebony and I think there are good arguments on both sides, so, you know, both sides will come out.

Ebony, 12: Now….you’re the audience mom, so, you know, your job is to listen.

LaKeysha: Mmm-hmm, (folds arms).

Ebony: OK, so I think everyone can agree that technology isn’t going away anytime soon, so we may as well figure out how to get good at it, and maybe even make a career out of it.

LaKeysha: You goin’ be a programmer at Apple?

Ebony: I don’t know—and I still have plenty of time to figure that out. What I’m trying to say is that young people need to dive into tech headfirst and figure it all out because it’s the future. And it’s already here.

Chanel: Do I get a turn to talk? (Looks back and forth at her mom and sister).

Ebony: Go ahead.

Chanel: So, tech may be the future, but I don’t know if our generation is going to make it to the future. We’ve let our screens take over our lives and none of us really knows what we’re doing with them, or what they’re doing to us. We like to make fun of mom for how little she knows about her phone, but I’m not convinced we’re much better.

Ebony: Speak for yourself Chanel. I have put in some serious time at slaying…and I am slaying.

Chanel: Serious time is exactly what I’m talking about. Do you have any idea have many hours a day you spend glued to your phone. Unless you are secretly taking online classes at Stanford, then I’d guess most of that time is either spent taking selfies and gaming or SnapChatting.

Ebony: Oh, snap girl…I’m on Instagram. And YouTube. But there is plenty to learn on both. And I use Wikipedia too.

Chanel: Yeh, to cheat on your social studies papers.

Ebony: Oh you did not just say that.

LaKeysha: Girls, please. Do not turn this into WWE all-out brawl. Keep this above the belt ladies.

Ebony: Well I don’t use Wikipedia to cheat. Anyway, our teachers are too smart for that. They look at Wikipedia too you know. I just like looking up random things and then diving into a rabbit hole of information. I learned everything there is to know about Rasputin last night when I couldn’t sleep.

Chanel: Rasputin?

So, tech may be the future, but I don’t know if our generation is going to make it to the future.

Ebony: He only brought down the Russian royal family and paved the way for the Communist overthrow. That’s all.

Chanel: Hmmm. Well, getting 8 or 9 hours sleep is your job at night, and screens are cutting into that—with you and with almost everyone else I know. Our friends show up to school so tired because they spent the night looking up Rasputin, or liking each others’ newest filtered selfies. It’s a damn shame. I like my sleep. And no one, no how going to deprive me of that—not the cute new guy at school who posts daily updates of his workouts…or your new friend Rasputin.

Ebony: OK, OK. I could use more sleep. It just takes me hours to finally conk out, and when I’m bored I just get on my phone to kill the time.

LaKeysha. Baby girl, Chanel is right. Your sleep problems are all about how you use your phone. It’s this terrible zig-zag of being too hopped up on social media and texting and so of course your body can’t drift off to sleep the way you used to. Jumping back on your phone when you can’t sleep just makes it all worse.

Chanel: I saw you nod off in science last week. Mr. Meyers didn’t see—lucky for you, but half the class saw and so did I. Ebony you are really good at using your phone but you just have to look at some of the statistics and studies I’ve been reading for this assignment to get a big picture look at where this is all heading.

Ebony: You two ganging up on me is cracking me up. I mean, you guys don’t agree on anything!

Chanel: Well the research I’ve been reading has changed my mind about a couple of things, and it gives me a new set of eyes for looking at my own phone habits—and yours.

Ebony: OK, fine. Give me the worst you’ve got. And then I’ll come back with the best I’ve got.

Chanel: Sure. Lets start with the fact that your phone has 10 times more bacteria on than a toilet. Boom! Texting makes it 23 times more likely a driver will get in a crash. 70% of screen addicts are addicted to other things as well: like drugs and booze. And over half of the people our age say they feel addicted to their phones. How long could you go without yours until you freaked out big time?

Ebony: Well you have a list there to read from. I didn’t write my numbers down. Hmmm. OK, you have a point that I need more sleep and that I’m kind of attached to my phone.

LaKeysha: Kind of?

Ebony: (Shoots her mom a look.) I didn’t know about those other statistics and I am for real getting out the Lysol to wipe down my nasty dirty phone after I take you down in this debate. But first, I am going to take you down.

Chanel: You sure you don’t want to wipe down your phone first?

Ebony: I just won’t touch it again until I’ve sufficiently wiped the floor with you.

LaKeysha: Mmmmm, digital smack down.

Chanel: Mom, you’re hear to listen.

Ebony: As I was saying, you’ve made some interesting points and I’m going to do some of my own research on the dark side of screens, but I’m also going to tell you what screens have done for me, and people like me. I can’t drive. I can’t see my friends any time I want to. My phone pipes them in whenever I want to reach them, or when they want to reach me. Until I’m old enough to get around myself, my phone is a virtual party where I can hang out with my friends.

Chanel: Shonda lives just down the street girl.

Ebony: Yeh, but most of my friends don’t. Let me finish. It’s not just hooking up with friends. My phone lets me be curious about anything—even if it’s 2am when I’m being curious. Momma, you said you felt limited when you were growing up. That you didn’t know all the things out there that could have made your early school years better. Well guess what? I’ve been researching scholarships and programs that I can use to get more of what’s out there. And my phone is how I found them all. Then I bring it up at school and my teachers are like, yeh, that’s a good idea. I can write you a recommend and help you do this. They didn’t say anything until I found these things first myself. There is money and mentors, and I want some of that.

LaKeysha: Yeh baby, you have always been the busy bee—taking care of business and yourself. I’m glad your phone helps you do that. Chanel, your sister is gaining on you here.

Chanel: OK, good points, and I want to know more about what you just said. So how about we save the debate for class and clean up your phone and share some of the links we both found.

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