Earlier this year, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) sponsored the Digital Equality Act of 2019 in an effort to close the “digital divide” by extending wifi access to more communities. Tech companies such as Facebook and Verizon, Apple (in this article, donating 9,000 iPads), and smaller local companies like Tech Defender are cooperating with local governments to providing more computers and screens to improve student performance. Money is pouring in to give kids “equal access” to tech.

But in her recent Washington Post article, Naomi Schaefer Riley of the American Enterprise Institute argues that equal access to technology isn’t what kids need to succeed.  “The real digital divide isn’t about access to the internet,” she writes. “The real divide is actually in time spent on screens, and there, the gap is enormous. The children at the disadvantage are the ones who have more access to screens, not less.”

Riley isn’t the only one sounding the alarm about the detrimental effects of screen over-use in kids. Time Magazine reported, “Young people who spend seven hours or more a day on screens are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety than those who use screens for an hour a day, finds a new study published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.” Vox wondered aloud about the connection between phone use and teen depression and suicide as well.

Given ubiquitous screen use- at home, at school, and in their hand- what’s the solution to reducing the number of hours that teens are staring at a screen? Riley gives us the answer: being raised by one’s married mother and father. She writes:

According to new data provided to me by the American Family Survey, from Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, in families headed by two married, biological parents, 49 percent of teens spend less than an hour on screens per day and only 15.1 percent spend more than three hours. In households led by single, divorced or cohabiting parents, 31.9 percent of teenagers spend more than three hours a day on screens. That pattern holds for other forms of media: Teenagers who are growing up in homes with married biological parents are much less likely to spend a great deal of time on social media and video games.

The world is under the false impression that the digital divide has to do with a lack of “equal access” to a laptop or wifi. But the data tells us that the real problem is teens lack of equal access to their mom and dad.   Riley goes on to connect increased teen screen time to a variety of concerns including poor grades, high obesity rates, ADHD and behavioral issues, and gaps in academic performance between white and minority students. Other studies confirm that married mothers and fathers are the best chance for kids to avoid these struggles as well.

Access to the two people to whom children have a natural right determine more than just teen screen use.  Children being raised without one parent, their father for example, fall into almost predictable patterns of risk:

  • 90% of homeless and runaway youth- a common gateway to trafficking- are fatherless.
  • 70-85% of prison inmates grew up without a father.
  • 63% of teenagers who commit suicide have absent fathers.
  • Fatherless children are four times more likely to live in poverty.
  • 71% of pregnant teenagers come from fatherless homes.
  • Kids whose parents lived separately before their birth were almost twice as likely to be overweight compared to those whose parents were living together.
  • 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.

So if we are truly concerned about reducing addictive and often detrimental screen use in teens (with the side benefit of reducing homelessness, incarceration, child poverty, obesity, suicide, teen pregnancy, and high-school drop-out rates) perhaps the Senate should propose legislation that give kids real equality.  Maybe they could call it the Child Equality Act of 2019 which would ensure that every child would have equal access to both mother and father for life.

Of course, the Senate could return to the viewpoint held by virtually every developed nation, political party, major religion, psychologists, social scientists, and adults with common sense up until 2008 and promote man/woman marriage which historically, has accomplished the same thing.

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