Why Banning Handheld Devices is like Prohibition

Somewhere on one of your social media feeds, a concerned parent, teacher, or anti-tech advocate shared a HP blog post that proclaimed “10 Reasons why Handheld Devices should be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12!” While anyone can come up with an eye-catching title (even me), the tricky part is ensuring that there’s some substance under the heading. The author, Cris Rowan, refers to research studies to support her claims; but, scientists everywhere were up in arms about this ‘hack-ademic’ writing. As science writer Melinda Wenner Moyer points out in her response and David Kleeman details in his own list, the original post oversimplifies the scientific research and there are far too many gaping holes in the conclusions that have been drawn. Both Moyer and Kleeman clearly outline the many ways in which the scientific ‘proof’ for her claims are largely nonsensical and deeply flawed. I will leave it to the experts to tear apart the science portion of Rowan’s article; to me, the most mind-boggling part of the viral post was its title. 

Ban handheld devices? A title like that will certainly explain the 350k shares on Facebook, but I am sincerely hoping that the number of shares indicate that this post is like one of those BuzzFeed lists – meaningless, humorous, and ridiculous. There isn’t a single reason on the 10-point list that supports the banning of handheld devices for children under the age of 12. But, there are plenty of reasons why banning handheld devices is no different than banning alcohol for adults.

There’s an analogy you never thought you’d hear. 

Overuse may do harm; but, when used in moderation it can be beneficial.

Yes, too much screen time is harmful for children. I don’t need to refer to the countless studies that have shown this to be true. My mother was the first to scream it from the kitchen when my brother watched more than a half-hour of TV after school – and that was three decades ago. The slew of research quoted in the original post indicates that screen time should be supervised and moderated, not banned.

The use of tablets in the classroom has been a game-changer. Just ask special education teacher Neil Virani. Virani tells VentureBeat that 35 minutes out of the box, he witnessed his student with Cerebral Palsy who only had proficient use of one finger write his name for the very first time using his new iPad. Or you could ask the thousands of students with Autism who use apps like Tap to Talk to communicate. Their families will tell you the difference it has made in their confidence, ability to express themselves, and interpersonal relationships. Just ask teachers who use these devices to open the doors to a world of knowledge, learning, and creativity that simply can’t be bound in textbook form. They’ll try to explain the difference between showing a child the world, and letting a child explore and discover it in novel ways.

So, before we call handheld devices the devil, let’s consider that perhaps it is not the device that is to blame, but the users. Please remember that a tablet is not a babysitter. So long as parents don’t substitute an iPad for good ol’ fashioned parenting, the use of these devices can be more beneficial than harmful.

Users gonna use. 

You’re either a techie parent, or you’re not. And, if you fall in the former category, you’ll have no problem sitting with your child and exploring various educational apps on the iPad together. No ban will stop you from doing so. No amount of misrepresented scientific research will stop you from doing so. The techie parent sees it as a teaching tool to expose their child to the world of literacy, numeracy, and science. They see it as an opportunity to show their child the importance of media literacy, teach them to critically analyze online content, and encourage them integrate technology into their lives in a manner that is healthy and balanced.

When the ban is lifted, you’re screwed. 

Truth be told, in this day and age, where even the least tech-iest of the bunch still manages to take photos and edit documents using a handheld device, it’s no wonder our children are discovering these little toys for themselves. As the iPad generation grows older, their ability to use handheld devices will be like any other indispensable life skill, like tying shoelaces or coloring in the lines. And, the poor children that haven’t been exposed to the world of technology will face tremendous challenges following their thirteenth birthday when the ban is finally lifted. It won’t be pretty.

The hypocrisy of it all.

I’m no stranger to the concept of neural pruning. I spent four years in University staring at cross-sections of brains that may have left me slightly cross-eyed. I know that our brains are learning much faster in the first two decades of life than thereafter, but that doesn’t mean our brains are immune to damage after the age of 21. So, until we adults agree to put down the glass of wine, turn off our cell phones, unplug our microwaves, eliminate sugary foods, ban cigarettes, and remove any trace of the hundreds of known brain-damaging objects that populate our homes and communities – should we really be telling the kids to toss out their handheld devices? I think not.

Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/56155476@N08/6660032213/

Photo credit: flickingerbrad / Foter / CC BY


  1. I am supply teaching in the high schools and yes, trying to vie with electronic devices is very, very frustrating. Just ensuring some basic housekeeping information gets relayed to the class takes an inordinately long time. The students say they are good at multi-tasking, but you can only multi-task very simple, already well-known tasks. Learning new material is not something that can be multi-tasked so they are actually switch-tasking. Soooo much time is wasted; it is a very unproductive way to operate in a classroom. Yes, once in a blue moon the technology is used for something related to the lesson plan; the other 99.9%, not. Before I am accused of being ‘non-techy’, let me say I was a computer science major in the 70’s and loved computers and the potential I envisioned for the future.

    • In my experiences, classroom management is always a challenge coming in as a substitute teacher. I’m sure competing with a screen doesn’t make it any easier.

      However, that being said, my experiences are very different than yours. I have found that the use of educational technology makes the curriculum concepts relatable for my students. Finally, school isn’t a place where they find computers older than the kids; instead, they are engaging in their own learning using the tools they enjoy using in their free time: twitter, blogs, etc. As you know, Joanne, I have taught everything from K-12, and have experienced incredible success using tech in my classroom. For me, the key has always been ensuring that the use of it is monitored, structured, and with specific learning goals in mind.

      Even more importantly, like I’ve mentioned in the blog post, this is a skill that is indispensable in today’s world. Regardless, of what career path my students will take, they WILL need to be technologically literate. Isn’t it our job as teachers to prepare our students to be productive members of society? Banning handheld devices would be counterproductive to this end goal.

      Love to hear your thoughts, teachers and parents! :)))

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