Book Review of Wired Child: Debunking Popular Technology Myths
by Richard Freed, Ph.D.
by David Walker Moore
This book has been hard for me to read. The language is clear and direct. The concepts are easy to understand. The ideas and research are interesting to me. So what is the difficulty? By the time I have finished a chapter, I have been so filled by frustration and anger that I have had to get up and walk away for a while before I can start the next chapter. It is like reading the history of the tobacco industry all over again: the deliberate pattern of industry generated myths, the use of tens of millions of advertising dollars to promote images of fulfillment based on very limited, partial truths, while ignoring and denying the abundance of research that outlines the extensive hazards that go with using the products.
Freed asks the question: "Are you feeling a disconnect between what is promised about children's technology and what you've experienced yourself?"
Many parents today are feeling this disconnect, often wondering what is wrong with themselves, or with their children. Why aren't they reaping the rewards that our popular culture and advertising promise?
In clear, readable language, Freed dissects the popular culture and advertising promises to show they are actually myths. These myths are grounded, at best, on partial truths; often, they fly directly in the face of the research about how children and teens actually use the technology, and in turn are used by the technology to generate corporate profits.
What are these myths? Freed addresses each one in a chapter of his book.
- Myth 1: Technology Brings Families Closer Together
- Myth 2: Technology Builds a Better Brain
- Myth 3: Entertainment Technologies Promote Kids' 21st-Century Success
- Myth 4: Technology Isn't Addictive
- Myth 5: Boys Thrive on Technology, Girls Suffer from Tech Deprivation
- Myth 6: Your Kids Understand Technology Better Than You Do
- Myth 7: Young Children Benefit from Using Technology
- Myth 8: Kids Should Use Technology to Detach from Parents
- Myth 9: The Tech-Savvy Teen
In each chapter, Freed addresses the generation of the myth, and the research that debunks the myth. He outlines the understanding, the activities, and the behaviors that parents need to deal with the myth.
It is important to realize that this is not a diatribe against the use of screen technologies. As Freed says in the introduction: "I want to make it abundantly clear: Kids' use of technology is not the problem. The problem is our kid's extreme overuse of entertainment technologies that is displacing the experiences that are fundamental to a strong mind and a happy, successful life."
Freed brings a unique background of insight and experience to writing this book. He is a Ph.D. psychologist who trained at Cambridge Hospital/Harvard Medical School and the California School of Professional Psychology. He has more than twenty years of clinical experience working with families and children who are dealing with the effects of these myths in their lives. He relates stories from his clinical experience that illustrate the difficulties that children and teens have in managing their use of technology on their own. And, he has the experience to bring into focus the research that is relevant to these issues.
There are many insights to take away from this book. Four items really stand out.
First is how corporations manage their advertising for Selling to Moms. Yes, moms of America, corporations realize how important you are in guiding and protecting your children. So they strategize how to sell to you, for instance at the 2011 Marketing to Moms (M2Moms®) conference. Or through the 2012 Yahoo! and Starcom MediaVest strategy report Brave New Moms: Navigating Technology's Impact on Family Time. Freed describes what he calls "marketing judo" as the way used to sell moms on more technology to help alleviate their concerns about the impact that technology is already having on their children and families.
Second is the psycho-neural design of games for addiction. The large corporations that are making billions from video games have learned that the most effective way of keeping people hooked to the game is to stimulate the brain's reward center. Psycho-neural researchers guide the development of games. Children are brought into labs, such as Microsoft's Playtest lab, where they are observed and studied as they play new games. As Freed notes, "Behavioral techniques are used to fine-tune the game to make an end product kids can't look away from, and can't put down."
And, as Freed explains, this is why many parents who try to guide their children to a moderate use of video games end up frustrated and helpless. "As parents describe to me nearly every day, the hunger that children show towards entertainment technologies is unmatched. The very high levels of dopamine triggered by video gaming make it extremely difficult to find alternative activities that kids find equally gratifying…Such cravings deprive children of the ability to appreciate real-life rewards."
Third is how corporate leaders in the tech industry raise their own kids. Many executives and leaders in the tech industry raise their children with much more limited access to screen technologies than the average American parent, often in close alignment to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. What do these tech industry parents know that the average American parent doesn't know?
Fourth, both China and South Korea have recognized the effects of overuse of entertainment technologies, and are treating screen and Internet addiction as a national health concern. Both countries have "enacted national rules to limit children's access." And, Japan is following in the same direction, investing in research and resources to help children overcome technology addiction. All three of these countries consistently rank higher than the USA in educational test scores. What have they recognized that we are still oblivious to?
In the final chapter, Achieving the Elusive: Kids' Productive Use of Technology, Freed outlines what we are really after, that serves our children throughout their lives: the productive use of technology. But, until we understand that, developmentally, our children are "virtually" helpless to deal with the overuse of entertainment technologies on their own, and accept the parental and social responsibility to provide the structure they need to grow brains that are "really" capable of productive use of screen technologies, we are abandoning millions of our children to unfulfilled lives, at great human and social cost.
This book appears to have been written for parents, to help them see behind the curtain of the all-powerful OZ. But I recommend it to everyone concerned about the development of our children, and thus our civilization. We need to understand these myths and how to deal with them effectively in the daily decisions we make with our families and our children.
Copyright 2015 David Walker Moore. All rights reserved.
David is a retired aerospace engineer and the stepfather of two grown sons. He believes firmly in the need to develop and use technology to resolve the pressing issues of our times. He believes just as firmly that there are negative consequences attached to the use of any technology. And, the negative consequences of our overuse of screen technologies for entertainment purposes prevents the development of children and citizens who can use technology effectively in resolving the issues of our times