I spoke to Anya Kamenetz, author of The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, about why she wrote the book, what parents can do to create a happy place for their children, the most interesting findings from her research, how a child’s technology use impacts their life and her best career advice.
Kamenetz is the lead digital education correspondent for NPR. Previously she worked as a staff writer for Fast Company magazine. She’s contributed to the New York Times, Washington Post, New York Magazine, Slate, and O, the Oprah Magazine, and has won multiple awards for her reporting on education, technology, and innovation. She is the author of three books on education and technology, Generation Debt, DIY U, and The Test. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.
Dan Schawbel: After writing books about higher education, why did you decide to focus on how technology impacts family time?
Anya Kamenetz: DIY U focused on tech in higher ed, and The Test took on topics related to K-12. I got increasingly interested in the gap between ed-tech rhetoric that technology is bringing unicorns and rainbows to children, and the broader conversation that is all about restricting and limiting kids’ use. My gut was that the truth lay somewhere in the middle.
Schawbel: What are some rules and behaviors that parents can put in place to create a happy place for their children?
Kamenetz: My core, evidence-based advice is to enjoy screens–WITH your kids. If you aren’t seeing any typical red flags such as obesity, sleep, or behavior issues, find the healthy balance between screen time and other activities that works for you. Spend time with your kids with “screens on the side,” and try to steer them toward more positive uses of tech like research, creativity, expression, and connecting with friends and relatives.
Schawbel: What are some of the most interesting findings from your research on this topic? What most surprised you and how has it impacted your own parenting?
Kamenetz: The sleep research is super convincing to me–the findings on how blue light wreaks havoc on melatonin production. Sleep is such a big issue for babies, kids, teenagers and parents too, and we don’t need another thing that makes it harder. Not only for myself, but my editor said that he is now parking his own phone in a room other than the bedroom at night. I am wary of giving my kids screen time after dark except on rare occasions.
Schawbel: How do you believe a child’s use of technology influences their long term relationships and career?
Kamenetz: As far as career: There are so many great case studies out there of kids discovering their creative, entrepreneurial and STEM passions thanks to the Internet. I really think we’re doing our kids a disservice if we don’t allow them the space to explore–with check-ins, of course–and do deep dives on their interests. As far as relationships: this is definitely trickier. Social mores and ways of interacting are evolving so quickly. I think in an ideal world, even as the modes of communication may change, we are bringing along our core values as parents and human beings, about being mindful, empathetic and taking on tough conversations with courage.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?
- It’s okay if you don’t fit a predetermined mold–in fact, in this job market it may be preferable!
- Keep your overhead and your expectations as low as possible when starting out. A little money in the bank will give you the courage to make choices that fit your passions and values.
- One of my mentors and bosses, Susan Orlean, told me when I was starting out as a writer: “Just keep doing the work and everything else will fall into place.”