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Is "screen time" benefiting your kids or killing their brain cells?

"Screens" — televisions, computers, tablets, and smart phones — have become ever-more dangerous weapons in the "mommy wars". Not only is the approach parents take to the use of technology within their families an excellent way for them to feel superior to those who take a different approach, "screens" themselves frequently provide the battleground where the technology mommy wars are fought. Many of us are much more comfortable saying rather unpleasant things about other people's parenting decisions if they're physically divided from that person by a screen, after all. Bonus points if you're able to tell your little angel to eat their organic carrot sticks before coloring on recycled paper with their bees wax crayons right as you tell another parent they're abusive for letting their brat watch Naruto.

Screens for kids have received a bad reputation. Sitting behind them, articles all over the web and perhaps reports on your local news will tell you, your kids will likely be met by such phenomena as obesity, aggression, dumbing-down, and reduced social skills.

Are screens really that bad for kids, or are we fighting the wrong battle here and have we, ourselves, perhaps become the victim of screens displaying content that lacks nuance?

'But Steve Jobs Banned Screens...'

"They haven't used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home," Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously replied to a question about whether his kids loved the iPad.

You've heard this before, haven't you, with the added note that many Silicone Valley tech execs completely agree with the late Steve Jobs? The message is clear. If they don't even want to subject their own kids to the rubbish that made them rich enough for you to apparently see them as some kind of authority, why should you feed your offspring a steady diet of brain numbing and obesity risk factors?

People like Steve Jobs obviously know all about the damage iPads and other screens can do to children. If they, who make these things, are so against modern tech for kids, shouldn't the rest of us be paying attention?

Yes. Yes, we should.

Back in 2011, the New York Times ran a report on the large number of Silicone Valley tech execs choosing to send their kids to a Waldorf school. Not any old Waldorf school, mind you, but the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, where preschool tuition fees exceed my annual income.

Waldorf is the name given to schools that follow the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. Characterized, outwardly, by their beautiful wool dolls, the aforementioned beeswax crayons, and stories about gnomes and fairies (which, wait for it, Steiner believed were actually real), Waldorf has some funny ideas about technology.

It seems innocent enough on the surface. Read their official materials, and you'll see they simply want to follow the guidelines on screen time set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dig a little deeper, and you get things like this statement written by a Waldorf advocate:

"I personally feel that there can be some value in the very occasional educational program (provided it is genuinely educational and not just marketed as such), but ideally this would be delayed until the child has transitioned from the dreamy physical realm of early childhood and is now awakened into the intellectual realm, as Steiner sees it (around age 7 and up)."

Here, you get just a little glimpse of some of the more wacky ideas Steiner had, and his advocates still have, about childhood development. Waldorf advocates delay teaching reading until a child starts getting adult teeth for similar reasons: a child's true consciousness doesn't really develop until that happens. By the way, you may or may not want to Google what Steiner thought about the true function of the human heart, or why Steiner believed that the traditional Aryan look was an indication of intelligence.

If Silicone Valley tech execs ban screen time for their kids because they've been indoctrinated by the rather frightening philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, anthroposophy, I have to say that I'd rather indoctrinate myself with funny cat videos on YouTube instead, and that I'd rather my kids watch an anti-racist video using a screen than be told they can't use black crayons.

***Note: If you're not familiar with the dark depths of the Waldorf philosophy, please consult Rudolf Steiner's books and read about experiences former Waldorf families are sharing before concluding that this article is unnecessarily hateful.***

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