Book Review: Screen Kids
It is inarguable that we live in a “digital age.” Increasingly, the world and our lives revolve around the devices that we carry around in our pockets, “glowing rectangles” as Andy Crouch calls them. But as the world continues its sprint toward digital everything, how should we think about this phenomenon, both for us and for the children that we’re raising? And, more importantly, what should we do to ensure that we and our children aren’t given over to the ill-effects of digital over-indulgence. In other words, how can we remain healthy, functioning persons in this digital age? In Screen Kids: 5 Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World, Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane set out to answer these important questions.
A Humbling Diagnosis
For all of its many benefits (and there are many), we and our children find ourselves increasingly dependent on technology not just for convenience and efficiency, but for entertainment, for social interaction, and for no substantive reason at all. We have become addicted to our screens. The authors of Screen Kids argue that this is not just unhealthy at the social level, but that our addiction bears consequences to our bodies chemically and emotionally, it fundamentally affects our relationships, and it compromises our safety. More pointedly, they argue, it robs us of our humanity. With that in mind, Chapman and Pellicane walk the reader through a sobering diagnosis, pointing out the real danger that these technologies pose to our children and to us.
Next, the authors move into a more hopeful, proactive section of the book, discussing what they call “the A+ Social Skills” that children need to master in order to grow into healthy persons. According to them, skills like affection, appreciation, anger management, apologizing, and attention are all necessary skills and, further, are all negatively impacted by an over-indulgence in screens and technology. Sadly, it is these negative impacts that we’re seeing all too often now rather than healthy, independent kids (and adults, honestly). As an example, the author writes, “we’re becoming less affectionate toward each other and more affectionate with our devices, holding them near at all times. Phones are like new babies. We coddle them. When they make a sound, we come running.” (94) Rather than being oriented toward persons, we’re more often oriented toward our devices. This is our predicament.
But the book doesn’t end on a glum note. After making a turn toward hopefulness in the previous section, the authors next slam their foot on the gas pedal, giving the reader a hopeful, practical, and attainable way forward. Chapman and Pellicane encourage the reader to “restart their home,” putting in place simple practices that will loosen the grip that technology seems to have on our lives. Though they don’t promise it will be painless, not for the children or the parent, they do promise it will be worth it.
Hard Words, Healthier Persons
There is no shortage of research on the topic of digital engagement and its impact on the health of people, both children and adult alike. With that, there is a dearth of books published and being published on the topic that many would find helpful, and this is certainly one of them. Uniquely, it is written from a Christian perspective, which necessarily takes into account the health of the whole person and considers consequences that other books may not, the centrality and extent of safety, for example. It is a book worth reading.
Rightly, Chapman and Pellicane offer a sobering look and, at times, a scathing critique of our habits and their consequences. They deliver hard words that we need to hear. At other times, it seems to me, their rhetoric feels over-torqued and (almost) alarmist. Nevertheless, the sobriety and urgency with which they speak is an aid to the reader, especially for those of us raising children in this digital age. If we have any hope of bucking the digital trends currently imposing their will on us, the habits, practices, and critiques offered in this book must land on soft, humble hearts. And whether we employ all of the suggestions given or not, one thing is certain: we must do better. This book will help you do that.
[I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
Gary Chapman, Ph.D., author, speaker, and counselor, has a passion for helping people form lasting relationships. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 5 Love Languages and Director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants, Inc. Gary travels the world presenting seminars, and his radio programs air on more than four hundred stations. For more information, visit his website at 5LoveLanguages.com.
Arlene Pellicane is a mom, speaker, and author of several books, including Parents Rising and Calm, Cool, and Connected. She has been featured on The Today Show, Fox & Friends, Focus on the Family, and The Wall Street Journal and is the host of The Happy Home podcast. She lives in San Diego with her husband, James, and their three children. To learn more, visit ArlenePellicane.com.