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Jun 13, 2024

You’re Not Alone

You’re Not Alone

What We're Fighting For

What We're Fighting For

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, not that long ago this was all new. 

Six years ago, in April of 2018, I attended the first inaugural Children’s Screen Time Action Network conference in Boston, MA, hosted by FairPlay (formerly the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood), where 200 concerned parents, psychologists, teachers, and activists gathered for the first time to talk about an unprecedented and growing problem: the impact of screentime on children. 

I still remember the keynote address given by Dr. Doug Gentile, of the Iowa State Media Research Lab, and his explanation of “displacement”-- the idea that the more time we spend on screens, the less time we have for other things. (I mean, kind of “duh” now, but then, it was a big deal to hear this.) I quote Gentile in my book and cite his work all the time. 

Personally, I came to the activism side of my work starting as a former middle school teacher, as I’d watched two simultaneous shifts occur: my 7th grade students’ increased access to and use of social media platforms and the increased expectations that I, as a teacher, utilize tech-based platforms to upload assignments and post grades. Childhood was increasingly digitized, parents were increasingly distracted, and schools were increasingly tech-friendly…but it was all happening so fast, it was hard to find a moment to stop and think: Is this what we want? Is this what kids need?

Or, as my colleague, Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath has written: "Knowing the harms, the question shouldn’t be ‘What’s the best way to take arsenic?’ but ‘Should we be taking arsenic in the first place’?” 

Technological shifts over the years have resulted in accusations of moral panics or the labeling of those of us raising concerns as luddites (see the Intro and Chapter 1 of my book for more). Call us what you want, but…we’re not wrong.

Technology has changed childhood.

Technology has changed parenting.

Technology has changed teaching and learning.

The question isn’t whether or not technology is having an impact; it clearly does. And it isn’t whether or not technology is all good or all bad; it’s neither and both.

Gathered in the room six years ago with others who were seeing these same shifts, I felt so much less alone. My passionate concerns, that sometimes scared away parents not yet ready to hear or see the issue, were echoed by those around me. I felt much less like I was wearing a tin hat and much more like I was part of a team.

Over the years, several smaller groups have formed following this inaugural meetup. I’ve been a part of the Screens in Schools group since its inception, and, with a few other parent activists from that group, I co-founded The Student Data Privacy Project. From these various circles I swim in, I’ve met authors and journalists, lawyers and teachers, parents and therapists, whose experiences and expertise have added more depth to our concerns and strength to our resolve. 

Last week, I attended a smaller gathering of advocates and activists in Portland, OR, hosted by FairPlay. It was wonderful to see three-dimensional humans whom I’ve only really previously known via a Zoom meeting, and to talk shop with my allies in this work. Again, spending time with passionate and caring people made me feel less alone, more capable, and more inspired. (And for the first time, a few people even knew who I was because they’d read my book! That was so neat!).

There was one group of parents in this past week’s group, however, who weren’t with us six years ago in Boston, and whose presence in Portland reminded us that six years and a pandemic later, the stakes are much, much higher.

I met Kristin Bride, mom of Carson, who took his own life after relentless bullying and harassment via Snapchat. Kristin has been fighting Snapchat and its subsidiaries to hold them accountable for their failure to protect children.  

I met Todd Minor, father of Matthew, who died after participating in a TikTok challenge. When I met Todd, I asked him to tell me what he had loved most about Matthew. “His generosity,” Todd said. “On the first day of school he gave his brand new sneakers to a kid who didn’t have nice shoes. He just gave them the pair off his own feet.”

Kristin and Todd and the other parents who came to the meet-up wore pins with their children’s photos on them, and t-shirts with pictures of their family in happier times. They’ve formed foundations, testified before Congress, and are fighting relentlessly to get the Kids’ Online Safety Act passed (it’s close, but not happened yet.)

Six years ago, no one in our Boston audience of 200+ could have imagined how quickly and devastatingly the landscape would change. To meet Kristin and Todd and hear about their children reminded me that our fight is not just to hold Big Tech accountable, but to prevent other families from having to go through the unthinkable experience of losing a child.  

Big Tech should be worried. Parents know how to organize, and we are doing it. Being together with other parents and activists makes me feel so much less alone, like I’m not shouting into a void.

For a long time, I have kept my activism separate from my work. But I am increasingly aware that I cannot fight for tech-intentional families without demanding more from Big Tech; I cannot advocate for less tech in school without pushing back on the EdTech onslaught; and I cannot teach my own children to be safe in the digital world and ignore that some parents no longer have that privilege.

It’s an uphill battle for sure. But as my activist buddy Andy has told me time and again, “Yes, this feels like David vs. Goliath. But remember– David won.”

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Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.