The Toca Boca co-founder has a refreshing take on the screen time debate and level-headed insights for parents.
By Sean Herman
As a father to two young children, I know firsthand that screen time is a complicated issue. I've experienced the pangs of anxiety while reading articles about the dangers of technology and I've felt the frustration of trying to sift through competing points of view and expert opinions. Like most parents, I worry about how technology will affect my kids and I want to do everything I can to raise good digital citizens.
I've also founded a kid-tech company, so I have a different relationship with technology than a lot of other parents. I understand how tricky it is for a company to build a healthy, inspiring and fun product for children—and be a viable business at the same time. I spend a lot of my time researching the industry and reading everything I can find from other thought leaders, and I'm always heartened when someone brings clarity and balance to a complex debate.
Björn Jeffery is the co-founder and former CEO of Toca Boca, a Swedish app development studio focused on the kid's market. Under his leadership, the company was hugely successful and today, Björn runs a digital strategy and consumer culture advisory. He has also published several great articles about the kid-tech industry.
His ideas aren't only interesting to me as a CEO; Björn recently delivered a speech at Techfestival 2019 in Copenhagen that's full of invaluable insights for any parent with questions about screen time. In it, he reminds the audience that concern over new media is not new by drawing a parallel between the moral panic caused by books in the late 1800s. (Yes, books caused panic back in the day!) There is a crucial distinction to be made, and he asks us to think critically:
"I intentionally chose the example of books as it represents a media format that is not only accepted, but almost universally seen as preferable. Books are great. Books for kids are great. Kids that read books are great.
While I don’t disagree with these statements, I do think it is an overly simplistic way of describing reality. So let’s go more granular. Is it good that kids read books? Generally speaking, yes, right? Is it good that kids read any type of book? Not necessarily. You wouldn’t choose “50 Shades of Grey” as a bedtime story for a preschooler, for instance."
He's right to point out that most parents today think books are good for kids. But he's also right to point out that not all books are appropriate for kids. Björn goes on to make a compelling argument that we must apply the same logic to screen time before we can decide if it's time wasted or time well spent:
"But just like we can’t talk about books without knowing more about the specific book – how can we talk about screen time without knowing what is taking place on the screen?"
His answer is that we can't. It's just not that simple or easy to judge screen time. But what we can do is recognize that this is a complex issue, and understand that it's difficult for parents to make decisions when everyone has an opinion on the topic—and no one seems to agree with one another.
"There is a lot of conflicting information available on this topic. You read about a study on Facebook, a parent at the playground guilt trips you about letting your kids use an iPad, or you read somewhere that Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids use technology. I’m a parent of two daughters myself. I get it."
Björn also acknowledges that there is an alarming tone that often accompanies the screen time debate. And that it can be difficult for parents to cut through the noise if they don't have a degree in neuroscience. It's tempting in this situation to "err of the side of caution" and seriously limit your kid's exposure to screens until there's more scientific consensus on the potential consequences. But again, he makes an excellent point:
"By withholding screens from your kids you may be reducing a hypothetical risk, but you are also withholding them from opportunity and potential."
This is something we also believe at Kinzoo. Further, I believe that it's not realistic to try and keep kids away from screens. The data tells us that kids are using technology earlier and earlier, so it's up to us as parents to empower them to thrive in a digital setting. Our goal at Kinzoo is to make that a little easier. Given the right circumstances, technology can be a positive force for our kids. Just like Björn Jeffery, we hope to bring balance to the discussion on screen time and hopefully be a resource to help families navigate technology with confidence.
Image Credit: Magnus Laupa